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Title: A Journey in Southeastern Mexico
Author: Harper, Henry Howard, 1871-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Journey in Southeastern Mexico" ***

produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)

[Illustration: LA CASA

(_The House at the ranch_)


An orange tree stands at either side of the front steps. See p. 70]





  Copyright, 1910,

  _All rights reserved_



The volume here presented to the reader does not profess to be a
history or description of Mexico as a whole, nor does it claim to
be typical of all sections of the country. It deals simply with an
out-of-the-way and little-known region, accompanied by a history of
personal experiences, with comment upon conditions almost or quite
unknown to the ordinary traveler.

Many books upon Mexico have been written--a few by competent and
others by incompetent hands--in which the writers sometimes charge
each other with misstatements and inaccuracies, doubtless oftentimes
with reason. However that may be, I have yet to discover among them a
narrative, pure and simple, of travel, experiences and observations in
the more obscure parts of that country, divested of long and tedious
topographical descriptions. Narrations which might be of interest,
once begun, are soon lost in discussion of religious, political, and
economic problems, or in singing the praises of "the redoubtable
Cortez," or the indefatigable somebody else who is remembered chiefly
for the number of people he caused to be killed; or in describing the
beauty of some great valley or hill which the reader perhaps never saw
and never will see.

I have always felt that a book should never be printed unless it is
designed to serve some worthy purpose, and that as soon as the author
has written enough to convey his message clearly he should stop. There
are many books in which the essential points could be encompassed
within half the number of pages allotted to their contents. A good
twenty-minute sermon is better than a fairly good two-hour sermon;
hence I believe in short sermons,--and short books.

With this conviction, before placing this manuscript in the hands
of the printer I sought to ascertain what possible good might be
accomplished by its issue in printed form. My first thought was to
consult some authority, upon the frankness and trustworthiness of
whose opinion I could rely with certainty. I therefore placed the
manuscript in the hands of my friend Mr. Charles E. Hurd, whose
excellent scholarship and sound literary judgment, coupled with a
lifelong experience as an editor and critical reviewer, qualify him as
an authority second to none in this country. He has done me the honor
voluntarily to prepare a few introductory lines which are printed

In view of the probability that very few, if any, among the restricted
circle who read this book will ever traverse the territory described,
I am forced to conclude that for the present it can serve no better
purpose than that of affording such entertainment as may be derived
from the mere reading of the narrative. If, however, it should
by chance fall into the hands of any individual who contemplates
traveling, or investing money, in this district, it might prove to be
of a value equal to the entire cost of the issue. Moreover, it may
serve a useful purpose in enlightening and entertaining those who are
content to leave to others the pleasures of travel as well as the
profits derived from investments in the rural agricultural districts of

Possibly a hundred years hence the experiences, observations, and
modes of travel herein noted will be so far outgrown as to make them
seem curious to the traveler who may cover the same territory, but I
predict that even a thousand years from now the conditions there will
not undergo so radical a change that the traveler may not encounter the
same identical customs and the same aggravating pests and discomforts
that are so prevalent today. Doubtless others have traversed this
territory with similar motives, and have made practically the same
mental observations, but I do not find that anyone has taken the pains
to record them either as a note of warning to others, or as a means of
replenishing a depleted exchequer.

In issuing this book I feel somewhat as I imagine Horace did when he
wrote his ode to Pyrrha,--which was perhaps not intended for the
eye of Pyrrha at all, but was designed merely as a warning to others
against her false charms, or against the wiles of any of her sex. He
declared he had paid the price of his folly and inexperience, and had
hung up his dripping clothes in the temple as a danger-signal for

    Ah! wretched those who love, yet ne'er did try
        The smiling treachery of thine eye;
        But I'm secure, my danger's o'er,
        My table shows the clothes[1] I vow'd
        When midst the storm, to please the god,
    I have hung up, and now am safe on shore.

So am I. Horace, being a confirmed bachelor, probably took his theme
from some early love affair which would serve as a key-note that
would strike at the heart and experience of almost every reader. The
apparent ease with which one can make money and enjoy trips in Mexico
is scarcely less deceptive than were the bewitching smiles of Horace's
Pyrrha. Indeed the fortune-seeker there can see chimerical Pyrrhas

[1] It was customary for the shipwrecked sailor to deposit in the
temple of the divinity to whom he attributed his escape, a votive
picture (_tabula_) of the occurrence, together with his clothes, the
only things which had been saved.

Although it has been said that truth is stranger than fiction, it
is observable that most of the great writers have won their fame in
fiction, possibly because they could not find truths enough to fill
a volume. In setting down the narrative of a journey through Mexico,
however, there is no occasion to distort facts in order to make
them appear strange, and often incredible, to the reader. We are so
surfeited with books of fiction that I sometimes feel it is a wholesome
diversion to pick up a book containing a few facts, even though they
be stated in plain homespun language. It is fair to assume that in
writing a book the author's chief purpose is to convey a message of
some sort in language that is understandable. In the following pages I
have therefore not attempted any flourishes with the English language,
but have simply recorded the facts and impressions in a discursive
conversational style, just as I should relate them verbally, or write
them in correspondence to some friend.

H. H. H.

Boston, Mass.,
October, 1909.



The present volume in which Mr. Harper tells the story of his personal
experiences and observations in a section of Mexico which is now being
cleverly exploited in the advertising columns of the newspapers as
the great agricultural and fruit-growing region of the North American
continent, has a peculiar value, and one that gives it a place apart
from the ordinary records of travel. The journey described was no
pleasure trip. The three who took part in it were young, ambitious, and
full of energy. Each had a fair amount of capital to invest, and each,
inspired by the accounts of visitors and the advertisements of land
speculators setting forth the wonderful opportunities for easy money
making in agricultural ventures along the eastern coast of Mexico,
believed that here was a chance to double it. There was no sentiment
in the matter; it was from first to last purely a business venture.
The scenery might be enchanting, the climate perfect, and the people
possessed of all the social requirements, but while these conditions
would be gratefully accepted, they were regarded by the party as
entirely secondary--they were after money. The recorded impressions are
therefore the result of deliberate and thoughtful investigation,--not
of the superficial sort such as one would acquire on a pleasure-seeking
trip. They differ essentially from the unpractical views of the writer
who is sent into Mexico to prepare a glowing account of the country's
resources from a casual and personally disinterested view of conditions.

The story of the trip by land and water from Tampico to Tuxpam is
photographic in its realism. In no book on Mexico has the character of
the peon been as accurately drawn as in this volume. Most writers have
been content to sketch in the head and bust of the native Mexican, but
here we have him painted by the deft hand of the author at full length,
with all his trickery, his laziness and his drunkenness upon him. One
cannot help wondering why he was ever created or what he was put here
for. In this matter of character-drawing Mr. Harper's book is unique.

The results of the investigations in this section of the country to
which the party had been lured are graphically set forth by Mr. Harper
in a half-serious, half-humorous manner which gives the narrative a
peculiar interest. He perhaps feels that he has been "stung," but yet
he feels that he can stand it, and enters no complaint. Besides, the
experience is worth something.

Of course the volume does not cover all Mexico, but its descriptions
are fairly typical of the larger portion of the country, particularly
as regards the people, their habits, morals and methods of living.
Aside from its interest as a narrative the book has an important
mission. It should be in the hands of every prospective investor
in Mexican property, especially those whose ears are open to the
fascinating promises and seductive tales of the companies formed for
agricultural development. A single reading will make nine out of ten
such restrap their pocketbooks. The reader will be well repaid for the
time spent in a perusal of the volume, and it is to be regretted that
the author has determined to print it only for private and restricted

Boston, October 25, 1909.


There are few civilized countries where the American pleasure-seeking
traveler is so seldom seen as in the rural districts of southeastern
Mexico, along the coast between Tampico and Vera Cruz. The explanation
for this is doubtless to be found in the fact that there is perhaps
no other civilized country where the stranger is subjected to so
many personal discomforts and vexations resulting from incommodious
facilities for travel, and from the multiplicity of pests that beset
his path.

The writers of books on Mexican travel usually keep pretty close to
the beaten paths of travel, and discreetly avoid the by-ways in those
portions far removed from any railroad or highway. They acquire their
observations and impressions chiefly from the window of the comfortable
passenger-coach or from the veranda of some hotel where three good
meals are served daily, or from government reports and hearsay,--which
are often unreliable. It is only the more daring fortune-hunters that
brave the dangers and discomforts of the remote regions, and from
these we are rarely favored with a line, either because they have no
aptitude for writing, or, as is more likely, because, wishing to forget
their experiences as speedily as possible, they make no permanent
record of them. Tourists visiting Mexico City, Monterey, Tampico and
other large cities are about as well qualified to discourse upon the
conditions prevailing in the agricultural sections of the unfrequented
country districts as a foreigner visiting Wall Street would be to write
about the conditions in the backwoods of northern Maine. I can readily
understand the tendency of writers to praise the beauty of Mexican
scenery and to expatiate upon the wonderful possibilities in all
agricultural pursuits. In passing rapidly from one section to another
without seeing the multifarious difficulties encountered from seedtime
to harvest, they get highly exaggerated ideas from first impressions,
which in Mexico are nearly always misleading. The first time I beheld
this country, clothed in the beauty of its tropical verdure, I wondered
that everybody didn't go there to live, and now I marvel that anybody
should live there, except possibly for a few months in winter. If one
would obtain reliable intelligence about Mexico and its advantages--or
rather its disadvantages--for profitable agriculture, let him get the
honest opinion of some one who has tried the experiment on the spot, of
investing either his money or his time, or both, with a view to profit.

In March, 1896, in company with two friends and an interpreter, I went
to Mexico, having been lured there by numerous exaggerated reports
of the possibilities in the vanilla, coffee and rubber industries.
None of us had any intention of remaining there for more than a few
months,--long enough to secure plantations, put them in charge of
competent superintendents, and outline the work to be pursued. We
shared the popular fallacy that if the natives, with their crude and
antiquated methods could produce even a small quantity of vanilla,
coffee or rubber, we could, by employing more progressive and
up-to-date methods, cause these staple products to be yielded in
abundant quantities and at so slight a cost as to make them highly
profitable. We had heard that the reason why American investors had
failed to make money there was because they had invested their funds
injudiciously, through intermediaries, and had no personal knowledge
of the actual state of affairs at the seat of investment. We were
therefore determined to investigate matters thoroughly by braving
the dangers and discomforts of pestilence and insects and looking
the ground over in person. We had no idea of forming any company or
copartnership, but each was to make his own observations and draw his
own conclusions quite independent of the others. We agreed, however,
to remain together and to assist one another as much as possible by
comparing notes and impressions. There was a tacit understanding
that all ordinary expenses of travel should be shared equally from
one common fund, to which each should contribute his share, but that
each one should individually control his own investment, if such were
made. Each member of the party had endeavored to post himself as best
he could regarding the necessities of the trip. We consulted such
accounts of travel in Mexico as were available (nothing, however, was
found relating to the locality that we were to visit), conversed with
a couple of travelers who had visited the western and central parts,
and corresponded with various persons in that country; but when we
came together to compare notes of our requirements for the journey no
two seemed to agree in any particular. Our objective point was Tuxpam,
which is on the eastern coast almost midway between Tampico and Vera
Cruz, and a hundred miles from any railroad center. As it was our
intention to barter direct with the natives instead of through any land
syndicate, we thought best to provide ourselves with an ample supply
of the native currency. Out of the thousand and one calculations and
estimates that we all made, this latter was about the only one that
proved to be anywhere near correct. In changing our money into Mexican
currency we were of course eager to secure the highest premium, and
upon learning that American gold was much in demand at Tampico (the
point where we were to leave the railroad) we shipped a quantity of
gold coin by express to that place.

Our journey to Tampico was by rail via Laredo and Monterey, and was
without special incident; the reader need not therefore be detained by
a recital of what we thought or saw along this much traveled highway.
This route--especially as far as Monterey--is traversed by many
Americans, and American industry is seen all along the line, notably at

Upon arriving at Tampico we were told by the money-changers there
that they had no use for American gold coin. They said that the only
way in which they could use our money was in the form of exchange on
some eastern city, which could be used by their merchants in making
remittances for merchandise; so we were obliged to ship it all back
to an eastern bank, and sold our checks against a portion of it at a
premium of eighty cents on the dollar.

We stalked around town with our pockets bulging out with Mexican
national bank notes, and felt quite opulent. Our wealth had suddenly
increased to almost double, and it didn't seem as if we ever could
spend it, dealing it out after the manner of the natives, three, six,
nine and twelve cents at a time. We acquired the habit of figuring
every time we spent a dollar that we really had expended only fifty
cents. Our fears that we should have difficulty in spending very much
money must have shone out through our countenances, for the natives
seemed to read them like an open book; and for every article and
service they charged us double price and over. We soon found we were
spending real dollars, and before returning home we learned to figure
the premium the other way.

The moment we began to transact business with these people we became
aware that we were in the land of _mañana_ (tomorrow). The natives make
it a practice never to do anything today that can be put off until
tomorrow. Nothing can be done _today_,--it is always "_mañana_," which,
theoretically, means tomorrow, but in common practice its meaning is
vague,--possibly a day, a week, or a month. Time is reckoned as of no
consequence whatever, and celerity is a virtue wholly unknown.

Our business and sightseeing concluded, we made inquiry as to the way
to get to Tuxpam,[2] a small coast town in the State of Vera Cruz,
about a hundred miles further south. We inquired of a number of persons
and learned of nearly as many undesirable or impossible ways of getting
there. There were coastwise steamers from Tuxpam up to Tampico, but
none down the coast from Tampico to Tuxpam. After spending a whole
day in fruitless endeavor to find a means of transportation we were
returning to the hotel late in the afternoon, when a native came
running up behind us and asked if we were the Americans who wanted to
go to Tuxpam. He said that he had a good sailboat and was to sail for
Tuxpam _mañana_ via the _laguna_,--a chain of lakes extending along
near the coast from Tampico to Tuxpam, connected by channels ranging
in length from a hundred yards to several miles, which in places are
very shallow, or totally dry, most of the time. We went back with him
to his boat, which we found to be a sturdy-looking craft about thirty
feet long, with perhaps a five-foot beam. It was constructed of two
large cedar logs hewn out and mortised together. The boatman said
he had good accommodations aboard and would guarantee to land us at
Tuxpam in seven days. He wanted two hundred dollars (Mexican money, of
course) to take our party of four. This was more than the whole outfit
was worth, with his wages for three weeks thrown in. We went aboard,
and were looking over the boat, rather to gratify our curiosity than
with any intention of accepting his monstrous offer, when one of the
party discovered a Mexican lying in the bottom of the boat with a
shawl loosely thrown over him. Our interpreter inquired if anyone was
sick aboard, and was told by the owner that the man was a friend of
his who was ill with the smallpox, and that he was taking him to his
family in Tuxpam. We stampeded in great confusion and on our way to the
hotel procured a supply of sulphur, carbolic acid, chlorine, and all
the disinfectants we could think of. Hurrying to one of our rooms in
the hotel, we barred the door and discussed what we should do to ward
off the terrible disease. Some one suggested that perhaps the boatman
was only joking, and that after all the man didn't have smallpox. It
didn't seem plausible that he would ask us to embark for a seven days'
voyage in company with a victim of an infectious disease. But who would
venture back to ascertain the facts? Of course this task fell upon the
interpreter, as he was the only one who could speak the language. While
he was gone we began preparing for the worst, and after taking account
of our stock of disinfectants the question was which to use and how to
apply it. Each one recommended a different formula. One of the party
found some sort of a tin vessel, and putting half a pound of sulphur
into it, set it afire and put it under the bed. We then took alternate
sniffs of the several disinfectants, and debated as to whether we
should return home at once, or await developments. Meanwhile the room
had become filled almost to suffocation with the sulphur fumes, the
burning sulphur had melted the solder off the tin vessel, and running
out had set the floor on fire. About this time there was a vigorous rap
at the door and some one asked a question in Spanish; but none of us
could either ask or answer questions in that language, so there was no
chance for an argument and we all kept quiet, except for the scuffling
around in the endeavor to extinguish the fire. The water-pitcher being
empty, as usual, some one seized my new overcoat and threw it over the
flames. At this juncture our interpreter returned and informed us that
it was no joke about the sick man, and that the police authorities had
just discovered him and ordered him to the hospital. He found that the
boatman had already had smallpox and was not afraid of it; he was quite
surprised at our sudden alarm. As the interpreter came in, the man who
had knocked reappeared, and said that having smelled the sulphur fumes
he thought someone was committing suicide. When we told him what had
happened he laughed hysterically, but unfortunately we were unable to
share the funny side of the joke with him.

[2] The reader should not confound this with other Tuxpams and Tuxpans
in Mexico. The name of this place is nearly always misspelled, Tuxpan,
with the final _n_; it is so spelled even in the national post-office
directory; but it is correctly spelled with the final _m_.

That evening when we went down to supper everybody seemed to regard us
with an air of curious suspicion, and we imagined that we were tagged
all over with visible smallpox bacteria.

We afterwards learned that the natives pay little more heed to
smallpox than we do to measles; and especially in the outlying country
districts, they appear to feel toward it much as we do toward measles
and whooping-cough,--that the sooner they have it and are over with
it (or rather, it is over with them), the better.[3] One of the party
vowed that he wouldn't go to his room to sleep alone that night,
because he knew he should have the smallpox before morning. After
supper we borrowed a small earthenware vessel and returning to our
"council chamber" we started another smudge with a combination of
sulphur and other fumigating drugs. Someone expressed regret that he
had ever left home on such a fool's errand. During the night it had
been noised about that there was a party of "Americanos ricos" (rich
Americans) who wanted to go to Tuxpam, and next morning there were a
number of natives waiting to offer us various modes of conveyance, all
alike expensive and tedious. We finally decided to go via the _laguna_
in a small boat, and finding that one of the men was to start that
afternoon we went down with him to see his boat, which proved to be of
about the same construction and dimensions as the one we had looked
at the previous afternoon. He said that he had scarcely any cargo and
would take us through in a hurry; that he would take three men along
and if the wind was unfavorable they would use the paddles in poling
the boat. His asking price for our passage, including provisions,
was $150, but when he saw that we wouldn't pay that much he dropped
immediately to $75; so we engaged passage with him, on his promising to
land us in Tuxpam in six days. He said there was plenty of water in the
channels connecting the lakes, except at one place where there would
be a very short carry, and that he had arranged for a man and team to
draw the boat over. We ordered our baggage sent to the boat and not
liking his bill of fare we set out to provide ourselves with our own
provisions for the trip.

[3] The mortality from smallpox in Mexico is alarming. Three weeks
later our party stopped over night about twelve miles up from Tuxpam
on the Tuxpam River opposite a large hacienda called San Miguel. We
noticed when we arrived that there was a constant hammering just over
the river in the settlement. It sounded as though a dozen carpenters
were at work, and the pounding kept up all night. In the morning we
inquired what was the occasion of this singular haste in building
operations, and were told that the workmen were making boxes in which
to bury the smallpox victims. It was reported that fifty-one had died
the day before, and that the number of victims up to this time was
upwards of three hundred, or nearly one-third of the population of
the place. One of the natives told us that a very small percentage of
the patients recover, which is easily understood when it is explained
that the first form of treatment consists of a cold-water bath. This
drives the fever in and usually kills the patient inside of forty-eight
hours. There was no resident physician and the physicians in Tuxpam
were too busy to leave town. They would not have come out anyway, as
not one patient in fifty could afford to pay the price of a visit. A
nearby settlement called Ojite, numbering sixty odd souls, was almost
completely blotted out. There were not enough survivors to bury the

When we arrived at the boat we found our baggage stored away, with
a variety of merchandise, including a hundred bags of flour, piled
on top of it. There was not a foot of vacant space in the bottom of
the boat, and we were expected to ride, eat and sleep for six days
and nights on top of the cargo. The boatman had cunningly stored our
effects underneath the merchandise hoping that we would not back
out when we saw the cargo he was to take. However, we had become
thoroughly disgusted with the place and conditions (the hotel man
having arbitrarily charged us $25 for the hole we burned in his cheap
pine floor), and were glad to get out of town by any route and at any
cost. We all clambered aboard and were off at about three p.m. As we
sat perched up on top of that load of luggage and merchandise when the
boat pulled out of the harbor we must have looked more like pelicans
sitting on a huge floating log than like "Americanos ricos" in search
of rubber, vanilla and coffee lands. We didn't find as much rubber in
the whole Republic of Mexico as there appeared to be in the necks of
those idlers who had gathered on the shore to see us off.

The propelling equipment of our boat consisted of a small sail, to be
used in case of favorable breezes--which we never experienced--and
two long-handled cedar paddles. The blades of these were about ten
inches wide and two and a half feet long, while the handles were about
twelve feet long. The natives are very skillful in handling these
paddles. They usually work in pairs,--one on each side of the boat.
One starts at the bow by pressing the point of the paddle against the
bottom and walks along the edge of the boat to the stern, pushing as
he walks. By the time he reaches the stern his companion continues
the motion of the boat by the same act, beginning at the bow on the
opposite side. By the time the first man has walked back to the bow
the second has reached the stern, and so on. The boats are usually run
in the shallow water along near the shore of the large bodies of water
in the chain of lakes, so that the paddles will reach the bottom. The
boatman had three men besides himself in order to have two shifts, and
promised that the boat should run both night and day. This plan worked
beautifully in theory, but how well it worked out in practice will be
seen later on. We glided along swimmingly until we reached the first
channel a short distance from Tampico, and here we were held up for
two hours getting over a shoal. That seemed a long wait, but before we
reached our destination we learned to measure our delays not by hours
but by days. After getting over the first obstruction we dragged along
the channel for an hour or so and then came to a full stop. We were
told that there was another shallow place just ahead and that we must
wait awhile for the tide to float us over. We prepared our supper,
which consisted of ham, canned baked beans, bread, crackers, and such
delicacies as we had obtained at the stores in Tampico. The supper
prepared by the natives consisted of strips of dried beef cut into
small squares and boiled with rice and black beans. At first we were
inclined to scorn such fare as they had intended for us, but before
we reached Tuxpam there were times when it seemed like a Presidential
banquet. After supper three of the boatmen went ahead, ostensibly to
see how much water there was in the channel, while the fourth remained
with the boat. After starting a mosquito smudge and discussing the
situation for a couple of hours, we decided to "turn in" for the
night. The interpreter asked the remaining Mexican where the bedding
was. His only response was a sort of bewildered grin. He didn't seem
to understand what bedding was, and said they never carried it. We
were expected to "roost" on top of the cargo without even so much as a
spread over us,--which we did. It was an eventful night,--one of the
many of the kind that were to follow. After the fire died out we fought
mosquitoes--the hugest I had ever seen--until about three o'clock in
the morning, when I fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. There being no
frost in this section to kill these venomous insects, they appear to
grow and multiply from year to year until finally they die of old age.
A description of their size and numbers would test the most elastic
human credulity. Webster must have had in mind this variety when he
described the mosquito as having "a proboscis containing, within the
sheathlike labium, six fine sharp needlelike organs with which they
puncture the skin of man and animals to suck the blood."

I had been asleep but a short time when the party returned from the
inspection of the "water" ahead, and if the fire-water they had aboard
had been properly distributed it would almost have floated us over any
shoal in the channel. They brought with them two more natives who were
to help carry the cargo over the shallow place, but all five of them
were in the same drunken condition. In less than ten minutes they all
were sound asleep on the grass beside the channel. We were in hopes
that such a tempting bait might distract some of the mosquitoes from
ourselves, but no such luck. The mosquitoes had no terrors for them and
they slept on as peacefully as the grass on which they lay. All hands
were up at sunrise and we supposed of course we were to be taken over
the shoal; but in this we were disappointed, for this proved to be
some saint's day, observed by all good Mexicans as a day of rest and
feasting.[4] We endeavored to get them to take us back to town, but no
one would be guilty of such sacrilege as working on a feast-day. When
asked when we could proceed on the journey they said "_Mañana_." After
breakfast our party strolled off into the pasture along the channel and
when we returned to the boat a few minutes later the Mexicans shouted
in a chorus "_Garrapatas! mucho malo!_" at the same time pointing to
our clothes, which were literally covered with small wood-ticks, about
half the size of an ordinary pinhead.

[4] I was told in Mexico that every day in the year is recorded as the
birthday of some saint, and that every child is named after the saint
of the same natal day. For instance, a male child born on June 24 would
be named Juan, after Saint John, or San Juan. The anniversary days of
perhaps thirty or forty of the more notable saints are given up to
feasting and dissipation.

_Garra_--pronounced gar-r-r-ra--means to hook or grab hold of, and
_patas_ means "feet," so I take it that this pestilential insect is
so named because it grabs hold and holds tight with its feet. If this
interpretation be correct, it is well named, because the manner in
which it lays hold with its feet justifies its name, not to mention the
tenacity with which it hangs on with its head. It is very difficult
to remove one from the skin before it gets "set," and after fastening
itself securely the operation of removing it is both irritating and
painful. If it should ever need renaming some word should be found that
signifies "grab hold and hang on with both head and feet."

They cling to the grass and leaves of bushes in small clusters after
the manner of a swarm of bees, and the instant anything touches one of
these clusters they let go all hold and drop off onto the object, and
proceed at once to scatter in every direction; taking care, however,
not to fall a second time. We had noticed a few bites, but paid no
special attention to them, as we were becoming accustomed to being
"bitten." Many of them had now reached the skin, however, and they
claimed our particular attention for the remainder of the day. We
inquired how best to get rid of them and were told that our clothes
would have to be discarded. The loss of the clothes and the wood-ticks
adhering to them was not a matter of such immediate consequence as
those which had already found their way through the seams and openings
and reached the skin. We were told that to bathe in kerosene or
turpentine would remove them if done before they got firmly set, and
that if they were not removed we would be inoculated with malaria and
thrown into a violent fever, for being unacclimated, their bite would
be poisonous to our systems. Of course there was not a drop of kerosene
or turpentine aboard, so the direst consequences were inevitable. Our
trip was fast becoming interesting, and with the cheering prospects of
malarial fever and smallpox ahead, we began to wonder what was next!
All interest in the progress of the journey was now entirely subverted,
and, with the mosquitoes and _garrapatas_ to play the accompaniment
to other bodily woes and discomforts, sufficient entertainment was in
store for the coming night.

After digging out our trunks and changing our clothes we thoughtlessly
laid our cast-off garments on top of the cargo, with the result that
in a short time the whole boat was infested with the little pests. Our
one comforting hope was that they might torture the Mexicans, but this
proved to be a delusive consolation, for we found that the natives were
accustomed to their bites and paid but little attention to them. I
refrain from detailing the events and miseries of the night following,
because I wish to forget them. Not least among our annoyances was the
evident relish with which the Mexicans regarded our discomforts during
daylight, and the blissful serenity with which they slept through it
all at night. As they lay there calmly asleep while we kept a weary
vigil with the mosquitoes and ticks, I was strongly tempted to push
one of them off into the water just to disturb his aggravating rest.
They laughed uproariously at our actions and imprecations over the
wood-ticks, but the next laugh was to be at their expense, as will be
seen further along.

Next morning at sunrise (from sunrise to sunset is regarded by the
Mexicans as the duration of a day's work) they began unloading the
cargo and carrying it half a mile over the shoal. The strength and
endurance of the men were remarkable, considering their meagre
fare. Each man would carry from two to three hundred pounds on the
back of his neck and shoulders the entire distance of half a mile
without stopping to rest. By two o'clock in the afternoon the cargo
was transferred and the boat dragged over the shoal. In this latter
undertaking we all lent a hand. If any of our friends at home could
have witnessed this scene in which we took an active part, with our
trousers rolled up, wading in mud and water nearly up to our knees,
they might well have wondered what Eldorado we were headed for. By the
time the boatmen got the cargo reloaded it was time for supper, and
they were too tired to continue the voyage that night.

We slept intermittently during the night, and fought mosquitoes
between dozes. We started next morning about five o'clock. This was
the beginning of the fourth day out and we had covered less than six
miles. One of the men told us that on the last trip they took ten days
in making the same distance. It began to look as though we would have
to go on half rations in order to make our food supply last through
the journey. We moved along the channel without interruption during
the day, and late in the afternoon reached the point where the channel
opened into a large lake several miles long. We camped that night by
the lakeside,--the Mexicans having apparently forgotten their promise
to pursue the journey at night. They slept on the bare ground, while we
remained in the boat. A brisk breeze blew from the lake, so we had no
mosquitoes to disturb the first peaceful night's sleep we had enjoyed
since the smallpox scare.

During the night we made the acquaintance of another native pest, known
as the "army-ant," a huge black variety measuring upwards of half an
inch in length, the bite of which produces much the same sensation
as the sting of a hornet or scorpion, though the pain is of shorter
duration. The shock produced by the bite, even of a single one, is
sudden and violent, and there is nothing that will cause a Mexican to
disrobe with such involuntary promptness as the attack of one of these
pestiferous insects. They move through the country at certain seasons
in great bodies, covering the ground for a space of from fifty feet
to a hundred yards wide, and perhaps double the length. If a house
happens to stand in their way they will rid it completely of rats,
mice, roaches, scorpions, and even the occupants. They invade every
crevice from cellar to garret, and every insect, reptile and animal
is compelled either to retreat or be destroyed. Nothing will cause a
household to vacate a dwelling more suddenly at any time of the night
or day, than the approach of the dreaded army-ant.

The boatmen were all asleep on the bank of the lake, while we,
remaining aboard the boat, had finished our after-supper smoke and were
preparing to retire. Suddenly our attention was attracted by a shout
from the four Mexicans almost simultaneously, which echoing through
the woods on the night air, produced the weirdest sound I had ever
heard. It was a cry of sudden alarm and extreme pain. In an instant the
four natives were on their feet, and their shirts were removed with
almost the suddenness of a flash of lightning. They all headed for the
boat and plunged headlong into the water. The army-ant being unknown to
us, and not knowing the cause of their sudden alarm, we were uncertain
whether they had all gone crazy or were fleeing from some wild beast.
They scrambled aboard the boat, and one of the regrets of my life
was that I couldn't understand Spanish well enough to appreciate
the full force of their ejaculations. All four of them jabbered in
unison--rubbing first one part of the body and then another--for fully
ten minutes, and judging from their maledictions and gestures, I doubt
if any of them had a good word to say about the ants. It was now our
turn to laugh. In half an hour or so they ventured back to the land
and recovered their clothes, the army of ants having passed on. They
were up most of the night nursing their bites, and once our interpreter
called out and asked them if ants were as bad as _garrapatas_. One of
the men was so severely poisoned by the numerous bites that he was
obliged to return home the next day.

At about eight o'clock next morning we arrived at a little village,
or settlement, and after wandering around for half an hour our party
returned to the boat, but the boatmen were nowhere to be seen. We
waited there until nearly noon, and then started out in search of them.
They were presently found in the store, all drunk and asleep in a
back room. We aroused them, but they were in no condition to proceed,
and had no intention of doing so. We remained there just twenty-eight
hours, and when we again started on our journey it was with only three
boatmen, none of them sober enough to work. The wind blew a steady gale
in our faces all the afternoon, and we had traveled only about four
miles by nightfall. We had now been out more than six days and had not
covered one quarter of the distance to Tuxpam. At this rate it would
take us nearly a month to reach there.

About three o'clock next day we went ashore at a little settlement, and
upon learning that there was to be a _baile_ (a dance) that night, the
boatmen decided to stay until morning. It was an impoverished looking
settlement of perhaps forty huts, mostly of bamboo with thatched roofs
of grass. A hut generally had but one room, where the whole family
cooked, ate and slept on the dirt floor. This room had an aperture
for ingress and egress, the light and ventilation being admitted
through the cracks. We did not see a bed in the entire village, and
in passing some of the huts that night we observed that the entire
family slept on the hard dirt floor in the center of the room with
no covering. In one hovel, measuring about 12 x 14 feet, we counted
eleven people asleep on the floor,--three grown persons and eight
children, while the family pig and the dog reposed peacefully in one
corner. All were dressed in the same clothes they wore in the daytime,
including the dog and pig. The garments of the men usually consist of
a pair of knee-drawers,--generally of a white cotton fabric,--a white
shirt-waist, leather sandals fastened on their feet with strings of
rawhide, and a sombrero, the latter usually being more expensive than
all the rest of the wearing apparel. The natives here are generally
very cleanly, and change and wash their garments frequently. The women
spend most of their time at this work, and when we landed we counted
fourteen women washing clothes at the edge of the lake.

The dance began about nine o'clock and most of the participants, both
men and women, were neatly attired in white garments. The men were
very jealous of their girls, though for what reason it was hard to
understand. Many writers rhapsodise over the beauty and loveliness of
the Mexican women, but I couldn't see it. There are rare exceptions,
however. The dance-hall consisted of a smooth dirt floor with no
covering overhead, and the orchestra--a violin and some sort of a
wind-instrument--was mounted on a large box in the center. A row of
benches extended around the outside of the "dancing-ground." The men
all carried their machetes (large cutlasses, the blades of which range
from eighteen to thirty-six inches in length) in sheaths at their side,
and two or three of the more gaily dressed wore colored sashes around
their waists. All wore their sombreros. The dance had not progressed
for more than an hour when one of the villagers discovered that his
lady was engaging too much of the attention of one of our boatmen,
and this resulted in a quarrel. Both men drew their machetes and went
at one another in gladiator fashion. It looked as if both would be
carved to pieces, but after slashing at each other for awhile they were
separated and placed under arrest. It was discovered that one of them
had received an ugly, though not dangerous, wound in his side, while
the other (our man) had the tendons of his left wrist severed. The men
were taken away and the dance proceeded as orderly as before. We now
had only two boatmen left. In discussing the matter at home a year
later a member of our party remarked that "it was a great pity that the
whole bunch wasn't put out of commission; then we would have returned
to Tampico, and from there home." One of the natives very courteously
invited us to get up and take part in the dance, but after the episode
just mentioned we decided not to take a chance.

Our boatmen spent all the next day in fruitless endeavor to secure
another helper, and we did not start until the day after at about nine
o'clock--a needless delay of forty-two hours; but they were apparently
no more concerned than if it had been ten minutes. We were learning to
measure time with an elastic tape. Ober complains of the poor traveling
facilities in Mexico, and says that "in five days' diligent travel" he
accomplished but 220 miles. We had been out longer than that and had
not covered twenty miles.

The wind remained contrary all day, as usual, and having but two
men, our progress--or lack of progress--was becoming painful. Our
provisions, too, were exhausted, and we were reduced to the regular
Mexican fare of dried beef and boiled rice. We took a hand at the
paddles, but our execution was clumsy and the work uncongenial. Someone
suggested that in order to make our discomfiture complete it ought to
rain for a day or two, but the boatman reassured us upon this point,
saying that it never rained there at that season of the year,--about
the only statement they made which was verified by facts. Having made
but little progress that day, we held a consultation after our supper
of dried beef and rice, and decided that the order of procedure would
have to be changed. The wind had ceased and the mosquitoes attacked
us in reinforced numbers. We were forced to remain in a much cramped
position aboard the boat on top of the cargo, because every time we
attempted to stretch our legs on shore we got covered with wood-ticks.
It occurred to some of us to wonder what there could possibly be in
the whole Republic that would compensate us for such annoyance and
privation, and even if we should happen to find anything desirable in
that remote district, how could we get in to it or get anything out
from it? Certainly none of us had any intention of ever repeating the
trip for any consideration. Thus far we had not seen a rubber-tree,
vanilla-vine, coffee-tree, or anything else that we would accept as a

Next morning we went over to a nearby hut, and our interpreter
calling in at the door asked of the woman inside if we could get some
breakfast. "_No hay_" (none here) said she, not even looking up from
her work of grinding corn for _tortillas_.[5] He then asked if we could
get a cup of hot coffee, to which she again replied "_No hay_." In
response to a further inquiry if we could get some hot _tortillas_ he
got the same "_No hay_," although at that moment there was one baking
over the fire and at least a dozen piled up on a low bench, which, in
lieu of a table, stood near the fireplace,--which consisted of a small
excavation in the dirt floor in the center of the room. The fire was
made in this, and the _tortillas_ baked on a piece of heavy sheetiron
resting on four stones. The interpreter said that we were hungry and
had plenty of money to pay for breakfast, but the only reply he got was
the same as at first. We therefore returned to the boat and breakfasted
on boiled rice and green peppers, the dried beef strips having given
out. Soon after our meal I had a severe chill, followed by high fever.
Of course we all feared that it was the beginning of smallpox or
malaria, or both. Another member of the party was suffering from a
racking headache and dizziness, which, he declared, were the first
symptoms of smallpox. There was no doctor nearer than Tuxpam or Tampico.
The aspect was therefore gloomy enough from any point of view.

[5] See description of the _tortilla_ on p. 36.

We made but little progress during the day. That night after going over
the various phases of the situation and fighting mosquitoes--which
would bite through our garments at any point where they happened to
alight--with no prospect of any rest during the entire night, we found
ourselves wrought up to such a mutinous state of mind that it appeared
inevitable that something must be done, and that quickly. We directed
our interpreter to awaken the owner of the boat and explain the facts
to him, which he did. He told him that we had become desperate and that
if not landed in Tuxpam in forty-eight hours we purposed putting both
him and his man ashore, dumping the cargo, and taking the boat back to
Tampico; that we would not be fooled with any longer, and that if he
offered any resistance both he and his man would be ejected by main
force. The interpreter was a tall, powerful man, standing six feet and
two inches in his stocking feet, and had a commanding voice. He had
spent several years on the Mexican frontier along the Rio Grande, and
understood the Mexicans thoroughly. He needed only the suggestion from
us in order to lay the law down to them in a manner not to be mistaken
for jesting. This he did for at least ten minutes with scarcely a break
of sufficient duration to catch his breath. The boatman, thinking
that we were of easy-going, good-natured dispositions, had been quite
indifferent to our remonstrances, but he was now completely overwhelmed
with astonishment at this sudden outburst. He begged to be given
another trial, and said he would not make another stop, except to rest
at night, until we reached Tuxpam. We passed a sleepless night with
the mosquitoes, frogs, cranes, pelicans, ducks--and perhaps a dozen
other varieties of insects and waterfowl--all buzzing, quacking and
squawking in unison on every side. In the morning my physical condition
was not improved. A little after noon we approached a small settlement
on the border of the lake, and stopped to see if we could obtain some
medicine and provisions. Our interpreter found what seemed to be the
principal man of the place, who took us into his house and provided us
with a very good dinner and a couple of quart bottles of Madeira. I had
partaken of no food for nearly thirty-six hours, and was unable now to
eat anything. We explained to him about the smallpox episode and he
agreed that I had all the customary symptoms of the disease. I wrote a
message to be despatched by courier to Tampico and from there cabled
home, but on second thought it seemed unwise to disturb my family
when it was utterly impossible for any of them to reach me speedily,
so I tore it up. We arranged for a canoe and four men to start that
night and hurry us back to Tampico with all possible speed. The member
of our party who had been suffering with headache and dizziness had
eaten a hearty dinner, and having had a few glasses of Madeira he was
indifferent as to which way he went. During the afternoon I slept for
several hours and about seven o'clock awoke, feeling much better.
Not desiring to be the cause of abandoning the trip, I had them
postpone the return to Tampico until morning. Meanwhile we paid off
our boatman, as we had determined to proceed no further with him under
any conditions. He remained over night, however. In the morning I felt
much better and the fever had left me. We decided to change our plans
for return, and to go "on to Tuxpam;" in fact this had now become our
watchword. We had had enough of travel by water, and finding a man who
claimed to know the route overland we bargained with him to furnish us
with four horses and to act as guide, the price to be $100. He also
took along an extra guide. The distance, he said, was seventy-five
miles, and that we would cover it in twenty-four hours. The highest
price that a man could ordinarily claim for his time was fifty cents
per day, and the rental of a horse was the same. Allowing the men
double pay for night-travel each of them would earn $1.50, and the same
returning, making in all $6 for the men; and allowing the same for six
horses, their hire would amount to $18, or $24 in all. We endeavored to
reason him down, but he was cunning enough to appreciate the urgency of
our needs, and wouldn't reduce the price a penny.

It is worthy of note that in this part of the country there is no
fixed value to anything when dealing with foreigners. If you ask a
native the price of an article, or a personal service, he will very
adroitly measure the pressure of your need and will always set the
figure at the absolute maximum of what he thinks you would pay, with
no regard whatever for the value of the article or service to be given
in exchange. If you need a horse quickly and are obliged to have it at
any cost, the price is likely to be four times its value. In bartering
with the natives it is wise to assume an air of utter indifference as
to whether you trade or not. I once gave out notice that I wanted a
good saddle-horse, and next morning when I got up there were seventeen
standing at my front door, all for sale, but at prices ranging from two
to five times their value. I dismissed them all, saying that I didn't
need a horse at the time, and a few days later bought the best one of
the lot for exactly one quarter of the original asking-price. We were
told in Tampico of a recent case where an American traveler employed a
man to take his trunk from the hotel to the depot, a distance of less
than half a mile, without agreeing upon a price, and the man demanded
$10 for the service, which the traveler refused to pay, as the regular
and well-established price was but twenty-five cents. The trunk was
held and the American missed his train. The case was taken to court
and the native won,--the judge holding that the immediate necessity of
getting the trunk to the station in time to catch the train justified
the charge, especially in that it was for a personal service. The
native had been cunning enough to carry the trunk on his back instead
of hauling it with his horse and wagon, which stood at the front door
of the hotel. The traveler was detained four days in trying the suit,
and his lawyer charged him $50 for services. In these parts it is
therefore always well to make explicit agreements on prices in advance,
especially for personal service to be performed.

In purchasing goods in large quantities one is always expected to pay
proportionately more, because they reason that the greater your needs
the more urgent they are. I discovered the truth of this statement when
purchasing some oranges at the market-place in Tampico. The price was
three cents for four oranges. I picked up twelve and gave the man nine
cents, but he refused it and asked me for two reals, or twenty-five
cents. I endeavored to reason with him, by counting the oranges and
the money back and forth, that at the rate of four for three cents, a
dozen would come to _medio y quartilla_ (nine cents), and nearly wore
the skin off the oranges in the process of demonstration; but it was
of no use. Finally I took four, and handing him three cents took four
more, paying three cents each time until I had completed the dozen.
I put them in my valise and left him still counting the money and

We agreed to the extortionate demand of $100 for the hire of the
horses and men, only on condition that we were to be furnished with
ample provisions for the trip. Leaving our baggage with the boat to
be delivered at Tuxpam we started on our horseback journey just after
sunset, expecting to reach Tuxpam by sunset next day. The trail led
through brush and weeds for several miles, and in less than ten minutes
we were covered with wood-ticks from head to foot. Shortly after
nightfall we entered a dense forest where the branches closed overhead
with such compactness that we couldn't distinguish the movement of our
hands immediately before our eyes. The interpreter called to the guide
in front and asked if there were any wild animals in these woods; in
response we received the cheering intelligence that there were many
large panthers and tigers, and that further on along the coast there
were lions. After that we momentarily expected to be pounced upon by
a hungry tiger or panther from some overhanging bough. The path was
crooked, poorly defined, and very rugged. Our faces were frequently
raked by the branches of trees and brush, and the blackness seemed
to intensify as we progressed. We loosened the reins and allowed the
horses to take their course in single file. The guide in front kept
up a weird sort of yodling cry which must have penetrated the forest
more than a mile. It was a cry of extreme lonesomeness, and is said
by the natives to ward off evil spirits and wild animals. I can well
understand the foundation for such a belief, particularly in regard to
the animals. The pestiferous wood-ticks were annoying us persistently,
and it looked as though we had changed for the worse in leaving the
boat. At length we came out into the open along the Gulf, and traveled
several miles down the coast by the water's edge. It was in the wooded
district at our right along here that the lions were so abundant, but
I have my doubts if there was a lion, or tiger, or panther anywhere
within a mile of us at any time. In my weakened physical condition
the exertion was proving too strenuous, and at three o'clock in the
morning we all stopped, tied the horses at the edge of the thicket
and lay down for a nap beside a large log that had been washed ashore
on the sandy beach. The natives assured us that the lions were less
likely to eat us if we remained out in the open. A stiff breeze blowing
from off the water whirled the dry sand in eddies all along the beach.
We nestled behind the log to escape the wind and sand, and in a few
minutes were all fast asleep. When we awoke a couple of hours later
we were almost literally buried in sand. The wag of the party said it
would be an inexpensive burial, and that he didn't intend ever to move
an inch from the position in which he lay.

Unaccustomed as we were to horseback riding, it required the most
Spartanlike courage to mount our horses again. After going a few miles
it came time for breakfast and our interpreter asked one of the guides
to prepare the meal. He responded by reaching down into a small bag
hanging at his saddle-horn and pulling out four _tortillas_, one for
each of us. This was the only article of food they offered us.

It may be explained that the _tortilla_ (pronounced torteeya) is the
most common article of food in Mexico. It is common in two different
senses,--in that it is the cheapest and least palatable food known,
and also that it is more generally used than any other food there.
In appearance the _tortilla_ resembles our pancake, except that it
is thinner, tougher, and usually larger around. The size varies from
four to seven inches in width, and the thickness from an eighth to
a quarter of an inch. It is made of corn, moistened in limewater in
order to remove the hulls, then laid on the flat surface of a _metate_
(a stone-slab prepared for the purpose), and ground to a thick doughy
substance by means of a round stone-bar held horizontally with one hand
at each end and rubbed up and down the netherstone, washboard fashion.
The women usually do this work, and grind only as much at a time as may
be required for the meal. The dough--which contains no seasoning of any
kind--not even salt--is pressed and patted into thin cakes between the
palms of the hand, and laid on a griddle or piece of sheetiron (stoves
being seldom seen) over a fire to bake. They are frequently served
with black beans--another very common article of food in Mexico--and
by tearing them into small pieces they are made to serve the purpose
of knives, forks and spoons in conveying food to the mouth,--the piece
of _tortilla_ always being deposited in the mouth with the food which
it conveys. Among the poorer classes the _tortilla_ is frequently the
only food taken for days and perhaps weeks at a time. It is never
baked crisp, but is cooked just enough to change the color slightly.
When served hot, with butter--an _extremely_ rare article in the rural
districts--it is rather agreeable to the taste, but when cold it
becomes very tough and in taste it resembles the sole of an old rubber

Such was the food that was offered us in fulfillment of the promise to
supply us with an abundance of good provisions for the journey. I had
eaten scarcely anything for three days, and with the improvement in
my physical condition my appetite was becoming unmanageable. We found
that it would probably be impossible to obtain food until we reached
Tamiahua, a small town about thirty miles down the coast. It would be
tiresome and useless to dwell further upon the monotony of that day's
travel along the sands of the barren coast, with nothing to eat since
the afternoon before. Suffice it to say that we all were still alive
when we arrived at Tamiahua at about three o'clock in the afternoon.
Meanwhile we had been planning how best to get even with the Mexicans
for having bled us and then starved us. Fortunately, we had paid only
half the sum in advance, and the remaining half would at least procure
us a good meal. We went to a sort of inn kept by an accommodating
native who promised to get up a good dinner for us. We told him to get
everything he could think of that we would be likely to enjoy, to spare
no expense in providing it, and to spread the table for six.

Tamiahua is situated on the coast, cut off from the mainland by a
small body of water through which the small freight-boats pass in
plying between Tampico and Tuxpam. There happened to be a boat at the
wharf, just arrived from Tampico with a load of groceries destined for
Tuxpam. The innkeeper suggested that there might be some American goods
aboard, and we all went down to interview the boatman. He informed us
that the cargo was consigned to a grocer in Tuxpam and that he couldn't
sell anything, but when our interpreter slipped a couple of silver
_pesos_ (dollars) into his palm he told us to pick out anything we
wanted. We took a five-pound can of American butter, at $1 a pound, an
imported ham at fifty cents a pound, a ten-pound tin box of American
crackers at fifty cents a pound, four boxes of French sardines, two
cans of evaporated cream, and a selection of canned goods, the bill
amounting in all to $22.25. This was all taken to the inn and opened
up. The innkeeper was instructed to keep what we couldn't eat. The
butter was so strong that he kept the most of that, with more than half
of the crackers. At five o'clock we were served with a dinner of fried
chicken, fried ham and eggs, canned baked beans, bread and butter,
coffee, and native fruit. The two guides were invited to sit down with
us to what was doubtless the most sumptuous feast ever set before
them. After dinner we called for a dozen of the best cigars that the
town afforded, and two were handed to each one, including the guides.
After lighting our cigars we called for the bill of the entire amount,
which, including the sum of $22.25 for the boatman, came to $38.50.
We called the innkeeper into the room, counted out $50 on the table,
and paid him $38.50 for the dinner and the boatman's bill; then gave
him $5 extra for himself, while the remaining $6.50 was handed to the
head guide. He almost collapsed with astonishment, and wondered what he
had done to deserve such a generous honorarium; but his amazement was
increased ten-fold when the interpreter informed him that this was the
balance due him. A heated argument ensued between them, and the guide
drawing his machete attempted to make a pass at the interpreter, with
the remark that he would kill every _gringo_ (a vulgar term applied
to English-speaking people by the Mexicans in retaliation for the
term _greaser_) in the place. The innkeeper pounced upon him with the
quickness of a cat and pinioned his arms behind him. His companion
seeing that he was subdued made no move. The innkeeper called for a
rope and in less than five minutes the belligerent Mexican was bound
hand and foot and was being carried to the lockup. The interpreter
explained the whole matter to the innkeeper, who sided with us, of
course. The effect of the five-dollar tip was magical. He went to the
judge and pleaded our case so eloquently that that dignitary called
upon us in the evening and apologized on behalf of his countrymen for
the indignity, assuring us incidentally that the offender would be
dealt with according to the law. We presented him with an American
five-dollar gold piece as a souvenir. He insisted that we remain over
night as his guests, and in the morning piloted us through the village.
The first place visited was the cathedral, a large structure standing
in the center of the principal street. Its seating capacity was perhaps
five times greater than that of any other building in the village. It
contained a number of pieces of beautiful old statuary, and on the
walls were many magnificent old paintings, of enormous dimensions, with
splendid frames. They are said to have been secretly brought to this
obscure out-of-the-way place from the City of Mexico during the French
invasion, but for what reason they were never removed seems a mystery.

A _fiesta_ was in progress in honor of the birthday of some saint,
and it was impossible to get anyone to take us to Tuxpam, only a few
miles distant. We desired to continue via the _laguna_, and engaged
two men to take us in a sort of gondola, with the understanding that
we should leave just after sunset. We gave the men a dollar apiece in
advance, as they wished to purchase a few articles of food, etc., for
the journey, and they were to meet us at the inn at sunset. Neither of
them appeared at the appointed time, and in company with the innkeeper
we went in search of them. In the course of half an hour we found
one of the men behind a hut, drunk, and asleep. He had drank a whole
quart of _aguardiente_ and the empty bottle lay at his side. We left
him and went to the boat, where we found the other man stretched out
full length in the bottom with a half-filled bottle beside him. We
concluded to start out and to put the man at the paddle as soon as
he became sufficiently sober. The innkeeper directed us as best he
could and we pushed off from the shore about an hour after nightfall,
expecting to reach Tuxpam by eight o'clock next morning. We were told
to paddle out across the lake about a mile to the opposite shore, where
there was a channel leading into a large lake beyond. The water was
very shallow most of the way, and filled with marshgrass and other
vegetation, which swarmed with a great variety of waterfowl. Disturbed
by our approach they kept up a constant quacking, squawking and
screeching on all sides, which, reverberating on the still night-air,
made the scene dismal enough. There was a _baile_ in progress near
the shore in the village and as we paddled along far out in the lake
we could see the glimmer of the lights reflected along the surface
of the water and could hear the dance-music distinctly. When we had
gotten well out into the lake the drunken man in the bottom of the
boat waked up and inquired where he was and where we were taking him.
Seeing the lights in the distance and hearing the music he suddenly
remembered that he had promised to take his girl to the dance, and
demanded that he be taken back to shore. Upon being refused he jumped
out into the water and declared that he would wade back. We had great
difficulty in getting him back into the boat and came near capsizing
in the operation. The ducking he got sobered him up considerably and
at length we got him at the helm with the paddle and told him to head
for the mouth of the channel. He neared the shore to the right of the
channel and following along near the water's edge was within a quarter
of a mile of the village before we realized what his trick was. The
interpreter took the paddle away from him and told him of the dire
consequences that would follow if he didn't settle down and behave
himself. After turning the boat around and following along the shore
for half a mile he promised to take us to Tuxpam if we would agree
to get him another bottle of _aguardiente_ there and also a present
with which to make peace with his girl. Upon being assured that we
would do this he seemed quite contented and set to work in earnest.
As we entered the narrow channel a large dog ran out from a nearby
hut, and approaching the boat threatened to devour us all. Provoked
at this interference the Mexican made a swish at him in the dark
with the paddle, but missing the dog he struck the ground with such
violence that the handle of the paddle broke off near the blade, and
both Mexican and paddle tumbled headlong into the water with a splash.
This provoked the dog to still greater savagery, and jumping from the
bank into the boat he attacked the interpreter with the ferocity of a
tiger. He was immediately shot and dumped into the water. Meanwhile our
gondolier had clambered up on the bank and the two pieces of the paddle
had floated off in the darkness. What to do was a serious question.
The native at the hut had probably been aroused by the shot and was
likely to come down on us with more ferocity than the dog. We could
not therefore appeal to him for another paddle. It was so dark that
we could scarcely see one another in the boat, and it was exceedingly
fortunate that none of the party was shot instead of the dog. While we
were debating the various phases of our predicament the Mexican--who
had now become quite sober after his second sousing--unsheathed his
machete and cut a pole, with the aid of which he soon had us a safe
distance down the channel. A few miles further on we got out at a hut
by the side of the channel and bought a paddle, for which we paid three
times its value.

The channels from here on were generally overhung on both sides with
brush and the boughs of trees, and the darkness was so intense that
it was impossible to distinguish any object at a distance of three
feet. The man at the paddle set up the same doleful yodling cry that
we had heard in the woods, and continued it at intervals all through
the night. He advised us to be careful not to allow our hands to hang
over the edge of the boat, as the channel abounded with alligators.
As a matter of fact, I doubt if there was an alligator within miles
of us. The native was doubtless sincere in his statement, because he
had perhaps heard others say that there were alligators there. The
story of the lions, tigers and panthers in the woods along the coast
was also undoubtedly a myth which like many other sayings had become a
popular belief from frequent repetition. The same is true of dozens of
tales one hears in Mexico, and about Mexico when at home. For example,
the fabulous stories about the vast fortunes to be made in planting
vanilla, rubber trees and coffee; but I shall treat of these matters in
their proper place further on.

We finally arrived at Tuxpam in the morning at nine o'clock. As I
reflected upon the experiences of the past two weeks I shuddered at the
very thought of returning. It is doubtful if all the riches in this
tropical land could have tempted me again to undergo the tortures and
anxiety of body and mind that fell to my portion on that journey. It
was an epoch long to be remembered.[6]

[6] After a lapse of twelve years I can recall the incidents and
sensations of the journey from Tampico to Tuxpam as connectedly and
vividly as though it had been but a week ago.

Tuxpam is a pleasant sanitary town of perhaps five thousand
inhabitants situated on the banks of the beautiful Tuxpam River a few
miles inland from the coast. The town is built on both sides of the
river, which carries off all the refuse and drainage to the ocean
below. This being a narrative of experiences rather than a history of
towns and villages, I have purposely refrained from long-drawn-out
topographical descriptions. The reader is doubtless familiar with
the general details of the crude architecture that characterizes all
Mexican villages and cities, and a detailed recital of this would be
a needless repetition of well-known facts, for there is a monotonous
sameness in the appearance of all Mexican towns and villages. For the
purpose of this narrative it matters little to the reader whether
the people of Tuxpam are all Aztecs, Spaniards, French or Indians,
though in point of fact they consist of a sprinkling of all of these.
Tuxpam itself is simply a characteristic Mexican town, but it should
be here permanently recorded that it has within its precincts one of
the most adorable women to whom the Lord ever gave the breath of life:
Mrs. Messick, the widow of the former American consul, is a native
Mexican of ebony hue, but with a heart as large and charitable and
true as ever beat in a human breast. She is far from prepossessing in
appearance, and yet to look upon her amiable features and to converse
with her in her broken English is a treat long to be remembered. Her
commodious home is a veritable haven for every orphan, cripple, blind
or otherwise infirm person that comes within her range of vision, and
her retinue of servants, with herself at their head, are constantly
engaged in cooking, washing and otherwise caring for the comforts and
alleviating the sufferings of those unfortunates who are her special
charges. She furnishes an illustrious example of the spirit of a saint
inhabiting a bodily form, and it is almost worth the trip to Mexico to
find that the native race can boast a character of such noble instincts.

Arriving at this picturesque town we went at once to the hotel. This
hostelry consisted of a chain of rooms built upon posts about nine feet
from the ground, and extending around the central market-place. There
is a veranda around the inside of the square, from which one may obtain
a good view of the market. The stands, or stalls, are around the outer
edge under the tier of rooms, while in the center men and women sit
on the ground beside piles of a great variety of fresh vegetables and
other perishable articles for household use. There is perhaps no better
selection of vegetables to be found in any market in America than we
saw here.

The partitions dividing the tier of rooms were very thin and extended
up only about two-thirds of the way from the floor to the ceiling,
so there was an air-space connecting all the rooms overhead. One
could hear every word spoken in the adjoining room on either side.
The furniture consisted of a cot-bed, a wash-stand and a chair. We
each procured a room, and as we looked them over and noted the open
space overhead, someone remarked that "it would be a great place
for smallpox." Having had no sleep the night before, and being very
tired after sitting in a cramped position all night in the boat, we
retired shortly after reaching town. At about four o'clock in the
afternoon I was awakened by a vigorous pounding at my door, and my two
companions, who were outside, shouted, "_Get up quick!_ there is a
case of smallpox in the next room!" I jumped up quickly and in my dazed
condition put on what clothing I could readily lay my hands on, and
snatching up my shoes and coat ran out on the veranda. After getting
outside I discovered that I had gotten into my trousers hind side
before and had left my hat, collar, shirt and stockings behind, but did
not return for them. We all beat a hasty retreat around the veranda
to the opposite side, of the court, or square, and the people in the
market-place below having heard the pounding on the door, and seeing me
running along the veranda in my _déshabillé_ concluded that the place
was afire. Someone gave the alarm of fire, and general pandemonium
ensued. The women-peddlers and huxsters in the market hastily
gathered up such of their effects as they could carry and ran out of
the inclosure into the street. In remarkable contrast to the usual
solicitude and thoughtfulness of motherhood, I saw one woman gather
up a piece of straw-matting with about fifty pounds of dried shrimp
and scurry out into the street, leaving her naked baby sitting howling
on the bare ground. Vegetables and all sorts of truck were hurriedly
dumped into bags and carried out. Happily this episode occurred in
the afternoon when there was comparatively little doing, and very few
pedestrians in the place; for had it happened in the early morning
when all the people are gathered to purchase household necessities
for the day, a serious panic would have been inevitable. About this
time our interpreter appeared, and three soldiers in white uniforms
came rushing up to us and enquired where the fire was. My companions
explained to the soldiers, through the interpreter, that it was only a
practical joke they had played on me. It now became my turn to laugh,
for they were both placed under arrest and taken before the magistrate,
charged with disturbing the peace and starting a false alarm of fire.
When the interpreter explained the matter to the magistrate that
official lost his dignity for a moment and laughed outright. He was
a good-natured old fellow (an unusual characteristic, I understand,
among Mexican magistrates) and appreciated the joke even more than I
did. He recovered his dignity and composure long enough to give us an
impressive warning not to play any more such pranks, and dismissed the

Our baggage did not arrive until five days later, and was soaking wet,
as the boatman said he had encountered a gale in which he had barely
escaped inundation.

There was an American merchant in Tuxpam by the name of Robert Boyd,
whose store was the headquarters of all Americans, both resident
and traveling. Had we talked with Mr. Boyd before going to Mexico
there would have been no occasion for writing this narrative. He was
an extremely alert trader and in his thirty years' residence, by
conducting a general store and trafficking in such native products as
_chicle_ (gum,--pronounced chickly), hides, cedar, rubber and vanilla,
which he shipped in small quantities to New York, he had accumulated
about $50,000 (Mexican). We had expected to make on an average that sum
for every day we spent in Mexico, and were astonished that a man of his
commanding appearance and apparent ability should be running a little
store and doing a small three-penny[7] business. Three months later we
would have concluded that any American who could make fifty thousand
dollars by trading with Mexicans for thirty years is highly deserving
of a bronze monument on a conspicuous site. For clever trading in a
small way, the Mexican is as much ahead of the average Yankee as our
present methods of printing are ahead of those employed in Caxton's
time. They are exceedingly cunning traders and will thrive where even
the Italian fruit-vender would starve.

[7] The customary measurement of money values in Mexico is three cents,
or multiples of three, where the amount is less than one dollar.
The fractional currency is silver-nickels, dimes, quarters, halves,
and large copper pennies. Three cents is a _quartilla_, six cents a
_medio_, and twelve cents a _real_. Although five-cent pieces and dimes
are in common use, values are never reckoned by five, ten, fifteen or
twenty cents. Fifteen being a multiple of three would be called _real y
quartilla_, one real and a quartilla. In having a quarter changed one
gets only twenty-four cents no matter whether in pennies, or silver and
pennies. A fifty-cent piece is worth but forty-eight cents in change,
and a dollar is worth only ninety-six cents in change, provided the
fractional coins are all of denominations less than a quarter. If a
Mexican, of the peon class, owes you twenty-one cents and he should
undertake to pay it (which would be quite improbable) he would never
give you two dimes and a penny, or four five-cent pieces and a penny;
he would hand you two dimes and four pennies (two _reals_), and then
wait for you to hand him back three cents change. If you were to say
_veinte y uno centavos_ (twenty-one cents) to him he wouldn't have the
slightest idea what you meant; but he would understand _real y medio y
quartilla_,--being exactly twenty-one cents.

When we informed Mr. Boyd that we had come in search of vanilla, rubber
and coffee lands he must have felt sorry for us; in fact he admitted
as much to me a few months later when I knew him better. With his
characteristic courtesy, however, he told us of several places that we
might visit. We learned for the first time that the three industries
require entirely different soils and altitudes. For coffee-land he
recommended that we go up the Tuxpam River to what was known as
the _Mesa_ (high table-lands) district, while for vanilla-land he
recommended either Misantla or Papantla, further down the coast; and
rubber trees, he said, could be grown with moderate success in certain
localities around Tuxpam. He did not discourage us, because it was not
consonant with his business interests to dissuade American enterprise
and investments there, no matter how ill-advised the speculation might
be. Others before us had come and gone; some had left their money,
while others had been wise enough to get back home with it, and stay
there. Some investors had returned wiser, but never was one known to
return richer. All this, however, we did not learn until later. We
made several short journeys on horseback, but found no lands that
seemed suitable for our purposes. There were too many impediments
in the vanilla industry,--not least among which was the alacrity
with which the natives will steal the vanilla-beans as fast as they
mature. In fact, a common saying there is, "catch your enemy in your
vanilla-patch,"--for you would be justified in shooting him at sight,
even though he happened there by accident. It requires a watchman to
every few dozen vines (which are grown among the trees) and then for
every few watchmen it needs another watchman to keep an observing eye
on them. Again, the vanilla country is uncomfortably near the yellow
fever zone.

As to rubber, we found very few trees in bearing, and the few
scattering ones we saw that had been "tapped," or rather "gashed," in
order to bleed them of their milk, were slowly dying. True, the native
method of extracting the milk from the trees was crude, but they did
not appear hardy.

One of the principal articles of export from this section is chicle.
The reader may not be aware that a great deal of our chewing-gum
comes from this part of Mexico, and that it is a thoroughly pure and
wholesome vegetable product. The native _Chiclero_ is the best paid
man among the common laborers in Mexico. Tying one end of a long rope
around his waist he climbs up the tree to the first large limb--perhaps
from thirty to sixty feet--and throwing the other end of the rope over
the branch lets himself down slowly by slipping the rope through his
left hand, while with the right hand he wields a short bladed machete
with which he chops gashes in the tree at an angle of about forty-five
degrees, which leading into a little groove that he makes all the
way down, conducts the sap down to the base of the tree, where it is
carried into a basin or trough by means of a leaf inserted in a gash
in the tree near the ground. This is a very hazardous undertaking and
requires for its performance a dexterous, able-bodied man. A single
misstroke may sever the rope and precipitate the operator to the
ground. In this way a great number of men are killed every year. The
sap is a thick, white creamy substance, and is boiled down in vats
the same as the sap from the maple tree. When it reaches a certain
thickness or temperature it is allowed to cool, after which it is made
up into chunks or squares weighing from ten to forty pounds each. It is
then carried to market on mule-back. The crude chicle has a delightful
flavor, which is entirely destroyed by the gum-manufacturers, who mix
in artificial flavors, with a liberal percentage of sugar. If the
gum-chewer could obtain crude chicle with its delicious native flavor
he (or she) would never be content to chew the article as prepared for
the trade.

Rubber is produced in the same way as chicle, and the milk from the
rubber tree is scarcely distinguishable, except in flavor, from that of
the chicle-producing tree. The latter, however, grows to much greater
size and is more hardy. It abounds throughout the forests in the
lowlands. The native rubber trees die after being gashed a few times,
and those we saw in bearing were very scattering. You might not see a
dozen in a day's travel.

The easiest way to make money on rubber trees is to write up a
good elastic article on the possibilities of the industry, form a
ten or twenty million dollar corporation and sell the stock to the
uninitiated,--if there are any such left. It would be a debatable
question with me, however, which would be the more attractive from an
investment point of view,--stock in a rubber company in Mexico, or one
in Mars. Both would have their advantages; the one in Mexico would
possess the advantage of closer proximity, while the one in Mars would
have the advantage of being so far away that one could never go there
to be disillusioned. The chances for legitimate returns would be about
the same in both places. It seems a pity that any of those persons who
ever bought stock in bogus Mexican development companies should have
suffered the additional humiliation of afterwards going down there to
see what they had bought into.

It is surprising that up to the present time no one has appeared before
the credulous investing public with a fifty-million dollar chicle
corporation, for here is a valuable commodity that grows wild in the
woods almost everywhere, and a highly imaginative writer could devote a
whole volume to the unbounded possibilities of making vast fortunes in
this industry.

While I was in Mexico a friend sent me some advertising matter of one
of these development companies that was paying large dividends on its
enormous capital stock from the profits on pineapples and coffee, when
in point of fact there was not a coffee-tree on its place, and it was
producing scarcely enough pineapples to supply the caretaker's family.

In regard to coffee, we found that some American emigration company
appeared to be making a legitimate effort to test the productivity of
that staple, and had sent a number of thrifty American families into
Mexico and settled them at the _mesa_,[8] several miles inland from
Tuxpam. They had cleared up a great deal of land and put out several
thousand coffee-plants. There are many reasons why this crop cannot be
extensively and profitably raised in this part of Mexico,--and for that
matter, I presume, in any other part. Foremost among the many obstacles
is the labor problem. The native help is not only insufficient, but is
utterly unreliable. It is at picking-time that the greatest amount
of help is required, and even if it were possible to rely upon the
laborers, and there were enough of them, there would not be sufficient
work to keep them between the harvest-seasons. It would be totally
impracticable to import laborers; the expense and the climate would
both be prohibitive. Again, the price of labor here has increased
greatly of late years, without a corresponding appreciation in the
price of coffee.[9]

[8] In 1907, I received a letter from my foreman at the ranch, saying
that yellow fever had spread throughout the Tuxpam valley district, and
that upon its appearance in the American settlement at the _mesa_ the
whole colony of men, women and children literally stampeded and fled
the country, taking with them only the clothes that were on them. The
old gentleman (American) from whom I bought my place, and who had lived
there for forty-seven years prior to that time, fell a victim to the
yellow plague, together with his two grown sons. Thirty years before
his wife and two children had fallen victims to smallpox. Thus perished
the entire family. It is said that this is the first time in many years
that yellow fever had visited that district. I scarcely ever heard
of it while there, though Vera Cruz, a few miles further south, is a
veritable hot-bed of yellow fever germs.

[9] There is nearly an acre of coffee in full bearing on my place, but
I have not taken the trouble even to have it picked. Occasionally the
natives will pick a little of it either for home use or for sale, but
they do not find it profitable, and so most of the fruit drops off and
goes to waste.

Neither vanilla, coffee nor rubber had ever been profitably raised
in large quantities and we therefore decided that under the existing
circumstances and hindrances we would dismiss these three articles from
further consideration.

If we had been content to return home and charge our trip to experience
account, all would have been well,--but we pursued our investigations
along other lines. The possibilities of the tobacco industry claimed
our attention for awhile--it also claimed a considerable amount of
money from one of my companions. Someone (perhaps the one who had the
land for sale) had recently discovered that the ground in a certain
locality was peculiarly suited to the growth of fine tobacco, which
could be raised at low cost and sold at fabulous prices. We learned
that a large tract of land in this singularly-favored district was
for sale; so thither we went in search of information. The soil was
rich and heavily wooded; it looked as though it might produce tobacco
or almost anything else. I neither knew nor cared anything about
tobacco-raising and the place did not therefore interest me in the
least. One of my companions, however, had been doing a little figuring
on his own account, and had calculated that he could buy this place,
hire a foreman to run it, put in from five to eight hundred acres
of tobacco that year, and that the place would pay for itself and
be self-sustaining the second year. By the third year he would have
a thousand acres in tobacco, and the profits would be enormous. It
would not require his personal attention, and he could send monthly
remittances from home for expenses, and probably come down once a year
on a _pleasure trip_. Parenthetically, by way of assurance to the
reader that the man had not entirely lost his reason, I may say that
we learned in Tuxpam that of all routes and modes of travel to that
place we had selected by far the worst; that the best way was to take
a Ward Line Steamer from New York to Havana, and from there around by
Progreso, Campeche, and up the coast to Vera Cruz, thence to Tuxpam.
From Tuxpam the steamers go to Tampico, then back to Havana and New
York. However, one cannot count with certainty on landing at Tuxpam,
as the steamers are obliged to stop outside the bar and the passengers
and cargo have to be lightered over. The steamers often encounter bad
weather along the coast, and it frequently happens that passengers and
freight destined for Tuxpam are carried on up to Tampico.

My friend had gotten his money easily and was now unconsciously
planning a scheme for spending it with equal facility. The more we
tried to dissuade him the more convinced he was of the feasibility of
the plan. We argued that no one had ever made any money in tobacco
there, and that it was an untried industry. He said that made no
difference; it was because they didn't know how to raise tobacco.
He would import a practical tobacco-man from Cuba--which he finally
did, under a guarantee of $200 a month for a year--and that he would
show the Mexicans how to raise tobacco. He bought the place, arranged
through a friend in Cuba for an expert tobacco-raiser, and sent
couriers through the country to engage a thousand men for chopping and
clearing. He was cautioned against attempting to clear too much land,
as it was very late. The rainy season begins in June, and after that
it is impossible to burn the clearings over. The method of clearing
land here is to cut down the trees and brush early in the spring, trim
off the branches and let them lie until thoroughly dry. In felling a
forest and chopping up the brush and limbs it forms a layer over the
entire area, sometimes five or six feet deep. Under the hot sun of
April and May, during which time it rarely rains more than a slight
sprinkle, this becomes very dry and highly inflammable. Early in June
the fires are set, and at this season the whole country around is
filled with a hazy atmosphere. The heat from the bed of burning tinder
is so intense that most of the logs are consumed and many of the stumps
are killed; thus preventing them from sprouting. Every foul seed in the
ground is destroyed and for a couple of years scarcely any cultivation
is required.

Our would-be tobacco-raiser paid no heed to advice or words of
warning; he was typical of most Americans who seek to make fortunes in
Mexico,--they have great difficulty in getting good advice, but it is
ten times more difficult to get them to follow it. You rarely obtain
trustworthy information from your own countrymen who have investments
there, for the chances are fifty to one that they are anxious to sell
out, and will paint everything in glowing hues in the hope that they
may unload their burdens on you. Even if they have nothing to sell,
they are none the less optimistic, for they like to see you invest your
money. Wretched conditions are in a measure mitigated by companionship;
in other words, "Misery loves company."

Hereafter I shall refer to the man who bought the tobacco land as Mr.
A., and to my other companion as Mr. B.

Mr. A. was delayed in getting his foreman and had the customary
difficulty in hiring help. Three hundred men was all he could muster
at first, and they were secured only by paying a liberal advance of
twenty-five per cent. over the usual wages. They began cutting timber
about the 28th of April,--the season when this work should have been
finished, and continued until the rainy season commenced, when scarcely
any of the clearing had been burned; and after the rains came it was
impossible to start a fire, so the whole work of felling upwards of
four hundred acres of forest was abandoned. Every stub and stump seemed
to shoot up a dozen sprouts, and growing up through the thick layer
of brush, branches and logs, they formed a network that challenged
invasion by man or beast. The labor was therefore all lost and the
tobacco project abandoned in disgust.

I was told by one of the oldest inhabitants--past ninety--that it
had never once failed to rain on San Juan's (Saint John's) Day, the
24th of June. Sometimes the rainy season begins a little earlier,
and occasionally a little later, but that day never passes without
bringing at least a light shower. Of course it was in accord with
my friend's run of luck that this should be the year when the rainy
season began prematurely; but the truth of the matter is, it was about
the most fortunate circumstance that could have occurred; for as it
turned out he lost only the money laid out for labor, together with
the excess price paid for the land above what it was worth; whereas,
had everything gone well he was likely to have lost many thousands of
dollars more.[10]

[10] A few years later Mr. A. sold his unimproved land for about
one-third of what it cost him, so that now I am the only one of the
party to retain any permanent encumbrances there. Be it said, however,
to the credit of my injudicious investment, that there has never been
a year when I have not received a small net return, over expenses; and
that is far more than I can say for my farm in Massachusetts, with all
its modern equipments. It has lately been discovered that that section
of Mexico is rich in petroleum, and in 1908 I leased the oil-privileges
alone for a sum nearly as large as I expected ever to realize for the
whole place.

In the meantime I had been looking the field over industriously, and
had concluded that the sugar and cattle industries promised the surest
and greatest returns. I heard of a ranch, with sugar-plantation, for
sale up in the Tuxpam valley. It was owned by an American who had
occupied it forty-seven years, during which time he had made enough
to live comfortably and educate two sons in American schools. He
was well past seventy and wished to retire from the cares of active
business,--which I regarded as a justifiable excuse for selling. We
visited the place and found the only American-built house we had
seen since leaving home. The place was in a fairly good state of
repair, though the pasture lands and canefields had been allowed to
deteriorate. The whole place was for sale, including cattle, mules,
wagons, sugar-factory, tenement houses, machinery and growing crops;
in fact, everything went. The price asked appeared so low that I
was astonished at the owner's modesty in estimating its value. I
accepted his offer on the spot, paying a small sum down to bind the
bargain,--fearing that he would change his mind. It was not long,
however, before I changed my estimate of his modesty, and marveled at
his boldness in having the courage to ask the price he did. On our way
back to town my companions argued that I was foolish to try to make
money in sugar or cattle raising; that there was no nearby market for
the cattle, and that the Cuban sugar was produced so abundantly and
so cheaply that there would be no profit in competing with it in the
American market. This was perfectly sound logic, as testified to by
later experiences, but it fell upon deaf ears. I had been inoculated
with the sugar and cattle germ as effectively as my friend had been
with the tobacco germ, and could see nothing but profit everywhere.
Mr. A. was to have a Cuban tobacco man, and why couldn't I have an
experienced Cuban sugar man? I expected to double the magnitude of
the canefields, as the foreman--who promised to remain--had declared
that this could be done without crowding the capacity of the factory.
I would also import some shorthorn cattle from the United States, and
figured out that I should need a whole carload of farming implements.

It may be remarked that almost without exception the American visitor
here is immediately impressed with the unbounded possibilities
of making vast fortunes. The resources of the soil appear almost
limitless. The foliage of the trees and shrubs is luxuriant the year
round, and the verdure of the pastures and all vegetation is inspiring
at all seasons. The climate is delightful, even in midsummer, and with
such surroundings and apparent advantages for agricultural pursuits
one marvels at the inactivity and seeming stupidity of the natives.
After a few months' experience in contending with the multiplicity of
pests and perversities that stand athwart the path of progress, and
becoming inoculated with the monotony of the tropical climate, one can
but wonder that there should be any energy or ambition at all. The
tendency of Americans is always to apply American energy and ideas to
Mexican conditions, with the result that nothing works harmoniously.
The country here is hundreds of years behind our times, and cannot
be brought into step with our progressiveness except by degrees. Our
modern methods and ideas assimilate with those of Mexico very slowly,
if at all. It is almost impossible to develop any one locality or
industry independent of the surroundings. The truth is, if you would
live comfortably in Mexico (which in these parts is quite beyond human
possibility) you must live as Mexicans do, for they are clever enough,
and have lived here long enough, to make the best of conditions. If
you would farm successfully in Mexico, you must farm precisely as they
do, for you will eventually find that there is some well-grounded
reason for every common usage; and if you would make money in Mexico,
stay away entirely and dismiss the very thought of it. Pure cream
cannot be extracted from chalk and water,--though it may look like
milk,--because the deficiency of the necessary elements forbids it; no
more can fortunes be made in this part of Mexico, because they are not
here to be made, as every condition forbids their accumulation. The
impoverished condition of the people is such that a large percentage of
the families subsist on an average income of less than ten cents a day,

Although the peon class are indigent, lazy and utterly devoid of
ambition they are so by virtue of climatic and other conditions that
surround them, and of which they can be but the natural outgrowth. The
debilitating effects of the climate, and the numberless bodily pests
draw so heavily upon human vitality that it is surprising that any one
after a year's residence there can muster sufficient energy to work at
all. The natives, after a day's labor will throw themselves upon the
hard ground and fall asleep, calmly submitting to the attack of fleas
and wood-ticks as a martyrdom from which it is useless to attempt to
escape. It is a labored and painful existence they lead, and it is not
to be wondered at that smallpox, pestilence and death have no terror
for them; indeed, they hail these as welcome messengers of relief.
When by the pangs of hunger they are driven to the exertion of work
they will do a fair day's labor, if kept constantly under the eye of a
watchman, or _capitan_, as he is called. One of these is required for
about every ten or twelve workmen; otherwise they would do nothing at
all. If twenty workmen were sent to the field to cut brush, without
designating someone as captain, they would not in the course of the
whole day clear a patch large enough to sit down on. The best workmen
are the Indians that come down from the upper-country settlements.
Upon leaving home they take along about twelve days' rations, usually
consisting of black beans and corn ground up together into a thick
dough and made into little balls a trifle larger than a hen's egg,
and baked in hot ashes. They eat three of these a day,--one for each
meal,--and when the supply is exhausted they collect their earnings
and return to their homes, no matter how urgent the demand for their
continued service may be. In two or three weeks they will return again
with another supply of provisions and stay until it is consumed, but no
longer. If Thoreau could have seen how modestly these people live he
would have learned a lesson in economic living such as he never dreamed
of. The frugality of his meagre fare at his Walden pond hermitage
would have appeared like wanton luxury by comparison. If the virtue
of honesty can be ascribed to any of these laborers the Indians are
entitled to the larger share of it. They keep pretty much to themselves
and seldom inter-marry or mingle socially with the dusky-skinned Aztecs.

It is difficult to get the natives to work as long as they have a
little corn for _tortillas_ or a pound of beans in the house. I have
known dozens of instances where they would come at daylight in search
of a day's work, leaving the whole family at home without a mouthful of
victuals. If successful in getting work they would prefer to take their
day's pay in corn, and would not return to work again until it was
entirely exhausted. Hundreds of times at my ranch men applying for work
were so emaciated and exhausted from lack of nourishment that they had
to be fed before they were in a fit condition to send to the field.

The basic element of wealth is money, and it is impossible to make an
exchange of commodities for money in great quantity where it exists
only in small quantity. In other words, if you would make money it
is of first importance that you go where there is money. If--as is
the case--a man will labor hard from sunrise to sunset in Mexico, and
provision himself, for twenty-five cents in gold, it would indicate
either a scarcity of gold or a superabundance of willing laborers, and
it must be the former, for the latter does not exist. Some have argued
that money is to be made in Mexico by producing such articles as may be
readily exchanged for American gold, but there are very few articles
of merchandise for which we are _obliged_ to go to Mexico, and these
cost to produce there nearly as much or more than we have to pay for
them. For example, a pound of coffee in Mexico[11] costs fifty cents,
the equivalent in value to the labor of an able-bodied man for twelve
hours. There is some good reason for this condition, else it would
not exist. In other words, if it didn't cost the monetary value of
twelve hours' work (less the merchant's reasonable profit, of course)
to produce a pound of coffee, it would not cost that to buy it there.
It does not seem logical, therefore, that it can be produced and sold
profitably to a country where a pound of this commodity is equal in
value to less than two hours of a man's labor. If it were so easy and
profitable to raise coffee, every native might have his own little
patch for home use, and possibly a few pounds to sell. In order to be
profitable, commodities must be turned out at a low cost and sold at
a high cost; but here is a case where some visionary Americans have
thought to get rich by working directly against the order of economic
and natural laws. I have not consulted statistics to ascertain how the
Mexican exports to the United States compare with their imports of our
products, but it is a significant fact, as stated at the beginning
of this narrative, that the highest premium obtainable for American
money is for eastern exchange, used in settling balances for imports
of American goods. The needs of the average Mexican are very small
beyond the products of his own soil, and if the agricultural exports
from their eastern ports were large the merchants would have but little
difficulty in purchasing credits on New York, or any important eastern
or southern seaport.

[11] It will be understood, of course, that in speaking of Mexico I
refer only to the district where I visited.

I had the good fortune _not_ to be able to make any satisfactory
arrangement for a practical sugar-maker from Cuba. I was more fortunate
than my friend Mr. A., in not having any friend there to look out for
me. Thus I saved not only the cost of an expert's services, which,
comparatively speaking, would have been a trifling item, but was held
up in making the contemplated extensions and improvements until my
sugar-fever had subsided and I had regained my normal senses, after
which I was quite contented to conduct the place in its usual way with
a few slight improvements here and there. I had not in so short a time
become quite reconciled, however, to the idea that the place could
not be run at a profit; but figured that it could be made to yield
me a considerable revenue above expenses, and that it would afford a
desirable quartering-place for my family on an occasional tropical
visit in winter. After returning home later in the season I induced my
family to return with me in the fall and spend a part of the following
winter there; and although we experienced the novelty on Christmas-day
of standing on our front porch and picking luscious ripe oranges from
the trees,--one of which stands at each side of the steps,--I have
never again been able to bring my persuasive powers to a point where
I could induce them to set foot on Mexican soil. It is largely due to
the abhorrence of smallpox, malaria, snakes, scorpions, tarantulas,
_garrapatas_, fleas, and a few other minor pests and conditions to
which they object. Mosquitoes, however, did not molest us at the ranch.

Once while we were at the ranch my wife was told by one of the servants
that there was a woman at the front door to see her. Upon going into
the hall she found that the woman had stepped inside and taken a seat
near the door. She arose timidly, with a bundle in her arms--which
proved to be a babe--and spoke, but Mrs. Harper could not understand
a word she said. The maid had entered the hall immediately behind my
wife, and, as she spoke both Spanish and English, the woman explained
through her that the baby was suffering with smallpox, and that she had
heard that there was an American woman there who could cure it. The
resultant confusion in the household beggars description. Every time
I mention Mexico at home I get a graphic rehearsal of this scene. The
poor woman had walked ten miles, carrying her babe, and thought she was
doing no harm in bringing it in and sitting down to rest for a moment.
She was put into a boat and taken down the river to Tuxpam by one of
the men on the place who had already passed through the stages of this
disease, and under the treatment of a Spanish physician whom I had met
there the child recovered and was sent back home with its mother.

It may be observed that since arriving at Tuxpam I have appeared to
neglect my friend Mr. B., but, although so far as this narrative is
concerned he has not as yet been much in evidence, he was by far the
busiest man in the party. Being the only unmarried man in our company
he had not been long in Mexico when he began to busy himself with an
industry in which single men hold an unchallenged monopoly, and one
that is far more absorbing than vanilla, rubber, coffee, sugar and
tobacco all combined. The immediate cause of his diversion was due to
a visit that we all made to the large hacienda of a wealthy Spanish
gentleman of education and refinement, who had a very beautiful and
accomplished daughter but recently returned home with her mother from
an extended tour through Europe, following her graduation from a
fashionable and well-known ladies' seminary in America. I have made the
statement in the foregoing pages that no American fortune-hunter had
been known to return home from here richer than when he came, but later
on we shall see that this no longer remains a truth. For the present,
however, as long as we are now discussing problems of vulgar commerce,
we shall leave Mr. B. undisturbed in his more engaging pursuit, and
return to his case later.

Next to silver, corn is the staple and standard of value in Mexico,
though its price fluctuates widely. Everybody, and nearly every
animal, both untamed and domestic, and most of the insects, feed upon
this article. It is the one product of the soil that can be readily
utilized and converted into cash in any community and at any season.
The price is usually high, often reaching upwards of the equivalent of
$1 a bushel. It is measured not by the bushel, but by the _fanega_,
which weighs 225 pounds. It may appear a strange anomaly that the
principal native product should be so high in a soil of such wonderful
productivity. An acre of ground will produce from fifty to seventy-five
bushels, _twice a year_. It is planted in June as soon as the rains
break the long, monotonous dry season which extends through March,
April and May, and is harvested early in October; then the same ground
is planted again in December for harvesting early in April. The ground
requires no plowing and, if recently cleared, no weeding; so all that
is necessary to do is to plant the corn and wait for it to mature. It
sounds easy and looks easy, but, as with everything else, there are a
few obstacles. Corn is planted in rows, about the same distance apart
as in America, and is almost universally of the white variety, as this
is the best for _tortillas_. The planting is accomplished by puncturing
the ground with a hardwood pole, sharpened at one end. The hole is
made from four to six inches deep, when the top of the pole is moved
from one side to another so that the point loosens up the subsoil and
makes an opening at the bottom of the hole the same width as that at
the top. The corn is then dropped in and covered with a little dirt
which is knocked in by striking the point of the pole gently at the
opening. The moisture, however, would cause it to sprout and grow
even if not covered at all. The difficulties now begin and continue
successively and uninterruptedly at every stage of development to
maturity, and even until the corn is finally consumed. The first of
these difficulties is in the form of a small red ant which appears in
myriads and eats the germ of the kernels as soon as they are planted.
When the corn sprouts there is a small cut-worm that attacks it in
great numbers. When the sprouts begin to make their appearance above
the ground there is a blackbird lying in wait at every hill to pull it
up and get the kernel. These birds, which in size are between our crow
and blackbird, appear in great numbers and would destroy a ten-acre
field of corn in one day if not frightened away. They have long sharp
beaks, and insatiable appetites. Following these the army-worm attacks
the stalk when knee high, and penetrating it at the top or tassel-end
stops its growth and destroys it. These ravages continue until the corn
begins to tassel, if any is so fortunate as to reach that stage. When
the ears appear another worm works in at the silk, and a little later
a small bird resembling our sapsucker puts in his claim to a share in
the crop. Beginning at the outer edge of the field and proceeding down
the row from one hill to another, he penetrates the husks of almost
every ear with his needlelike bill, and the moment the milky substance
of the corn is reached the ear is abandoned and another attacked. When
punctured in this way the ear withers and dries up without maturing.
The succession is then taken up by the parrots and parrakeets, which
abound in Mexico. They may be seen in flocks flying overhead or
hovering over some field, constantly chattering and squawking, at
almost any hour of the day. When the corn begins to mature the raccoons
appear from the woods, and entering a field at night they eat and
destroy the corn like a drove of hogs. As a means of protection against
these pests many of the natives keep a number of dogs, which they tie
out around the field at night, and which keep up an almost constant
barking and howling. Finally, just as the corn has matured and the
kernels are hardening the fall rains begin, and often continue for days
and even weeks with scarcely an interruption. The water runs down into
the ear through the silks and rots the corn. In order to prevent this
it is necessary to break every stalk just below the ear and bend the
tops with the ears down so the water will run off. Later it is husked
and carried to the crib, when it is subjected to the worst of all the
evils, the black weevil. The eggs from which this insect springs are
deposited in the corn while in the field and commence to hatch soon
after it is harvested. I have personally tested this by taking an
ear of corn from the field and after shelling it placed the corn in
a bottle, which was corked up and set away. In about three weeks the
weevils began to appear, and in six weeks every kernel was destroyed.
At first I wondered why the Mexicans usually planted their corn in such
small patches and so near the house, but in view of the foregoing
facts this is easily explained. Almost the same vexatious conditions
prevail in nearly everything that one attempts to do in this country,
the variety and numbers of enemies and hindrances varying with each
undertaking. There is a hoodoo lurking in every bush, and no matter
which way the stranger turns he finds himself enmeshed in a veritable
entanglement of impediments and aggravations.

All along and up and down the banks of the Tuxpam River, and in other
more remote localities, there are countless wrecks and ruins of sugar
mills, distilleries and other evidences of former American industry,
which mark the last traces of blighted ambitions and ruined fortunes of
investors. The weeds and bushes have overgrown the ruins and tenderly
sheltered them from the sun's rays and the view of the uninquisitive
passer-by. They have become the silent haunts of wild animals,
scorpions and other reptiles. At the visitor's approach a flock of
jaybirds will immediately set up a clamorous chattering and cawing in
the surrounding trees, as if to reproach the trespasser who invades the
lonely precincts of these isolated tomb-like abodes. They tell their
own tale in more eloquent language than any writer could command. With
each ruin there is a traditional and oftentimes pathetic story. In
some cases the investor was fortunate enough to lose only his money,
but in many instances the lives along with the fortunes of the more
venturesome were sacrificed to some one or other of the various forms
of pestilence which from time to time sweep over the country.

Among the native fruit products in this section the orange and the
mango hold first rank, with bananas and plantains a close second. In
close proximity to almost every native hut one will find a small patch
of plantain and banana stalks. The plantain is made edible by roasting
with the skin on, or by peeling and splitting it in halves and frying
it in lard or butter.

Of all tropical fruits the mango is perhaps the most delicious. Its
tree grows to enormous size and bears a prolific burden of fruit. In
front of my house are a great number of huge mango trees which are said
to have been planted more than two hundred years ago. The fruit picked
up from under a single tree amounted to a trifle over one hundred and
sixty-one bushels. Unlike the banana or even our American peaches,
pears and plums, the mango is scarcely fit to eat unless allowed to
ripen and drop off the tree. Much of the delicacy of its flavor is lost
if plucked even a day before it is ready to fall. When picked green
and shipped to the American markets it is but a sorry imitation of the
fruit when allowed to ripen on the tree. It ripens in June, and it is
almost worth one's while to make a flying trip to the tropics in that
month just to sit beneath the mango tree and eat one's fill of this
fruit four or five times a day.

The only native fruit that ever could be profitably raised here for
the American market is the orange. The Mexican orange is well known
for its thin, smooth skin and superior flavor and sweetness. The trees
thrive in the locality of Tuxpam, and bear abundantly from year to year
without the least cultivation or attention. On my place thousands of
bushels of this fruit drop off the trees and go to waste every year,
there being no market for it. I made an experimental shipment of 1,000
boxes to New York on one of the Ward Line Steamers. After selecting,
wrapping and packing them with the greatest care, and prepaying the
freight, in due time I received a bill from the New York commission
house for $275 (gold) for various charges incidental to receiving and
hauling them to the public dump. The steamer, however, had been delayed
several days. The ratio of profit on this transaction is a fair example
of the returns that one may reasonably expect from an investment in any
agricultural enterprise in Mexico.[12] If ever we get rapid steamer
service between Tuxpam and Galveston or New Orleans, it is my belief
that orange-growing could be made profitable in this country, but until
then it would be useless to consider the orange-growing industry.

[12] While this volume was in process of issue there appeared in
several leading newspapers a full-page advertisement by some Mexican
orange-grove company, which contained many of the most extraordinary
offers. For example, the promoters agree, for a consideration of $250,
to plant a grove of fifty orange trees and to care for them two years;
then turn the grove over to the investor, who receives $250 the first
year, $375 the second year, and so on until the tenth year, when the
grove of fifty trees nets an income of $5,500 (gold) per annum, which
will be continued for upwards of four hundred years. The company's
lands are located "where the chill of frost never enters, where the
climate excels that of California, where you are 500 miles nearer
American markets than Los Angeles and 60 days earlier than Florida
crops--this is the spot where you will own an orange grove that will
net you $5,500 annually without toil, worry or expense. We will manage
your grove, if you desire, care for the trees, pick, pack and ship your
oranges to market, and all you will have to do is to bank the check we
send to you." It would appear that anyone with $250 who refuses this
offer must indeed be heedless of the coming vicissitudes of old age;
for the promoters pledge their fortunes and their sacred honor that
"when your grove is in full bearing strength you need worry no longer
about your future income."

Having had some experience in farming in my boyhood, I thought I
knew more about corn-raising than the natives did and that I would
demonstrate a few things that would be useful to them; so I instructed
my foreman to procure a cultivator and cornplanter from the United
States. At Tuxpam I found an American plow which had been on hand
perhaps for some years, and was regarded by the natives as a sort of
curiosity. No merchant had had the rashness, however, to stock himself
with a cultivator or cornplanter. The foreman was ordered to plow
about fifteen acres of ground and plant it to corn as an experiment.
The natives hearing of the undertaking came from a distance to see the
operation. They thought it was wonderful, but didn't seem to regard
it with much favor. The piece was planted in due season, and the rows
both ways were run as straight as an arrow. It required the combined
efforts of all the extra help obtainable in the neighborhood to rid the
corn of the pests that beset it, but after cultivating it three times
and "laying it by," the height and luxuriance of growth it attained
were quite remarkable. Standing a trifle over six feet tall I could
not reach half the ears with the tips of my fingers. The ground was
rich, and as mellow as an ash-heap and appeared to rejoice at the
advent of the plow and cultivator. One night in August there came a
hard rain, accompanied by the usual hurricanes at this season, and next
morning when I went out, imagine my astonishment to find that not a
hill of corn in the whole field was standing! Its growth was so rank
and the ground so mellow that the weight of one hill falling against
another bore it down, and the whole field was laid as flat as though
a roller had been run over it. It was all uprooted and the roots were
exposed to the sun and air. We didn't harvest an ear of corn from
the whole fifteen acres. The other corn in the neighborhood withstood
the gale without any damage. This experience explained why it is that
the natives always plant corn in hard ground, and also furnishes
additional proof that it is usually safe to adhere pretty closely to
the prevailing customs, and exercise caution in trying any innovations.

After clearing a piece of land for corn the natives will plant it for
a couple of years, then abandon it to the weeds and brush for awhile.
They then clear another piece, and in two or three years the abandoned
piece is covered with a growth of brush sufficiently heavy so that
when cut and burned the fire destroys such seeds as have found their
way into the piece. After land here has been planted for a few years
it becomes so foul with weeds that it would be impossible for a man
with a hoe to keep them down on more than an acre. It is surprising how
rapidly and thickly they grow. The story of the southern gentleman who
said that in his country the pumpkin vines grew so fast that they wore
the little pumpkins out dragging them over the ground would seem like a
plausible truth when compared with what might be said of rapid growth
in Mexican vegetation. They say that the custom of wearing machetes at
all times is really a necessity, as when a man goes to the field in the
morning there is no knowing but that it may rain and the weeds grow up
and smother him before he can get back home. I am, however, a little
skeptical on this point.

A serious difficulty which has to be reckoned with in Mexico is
the utter disregard that many of the natives have for the property
rights of others. Pigs, chickens, calves, and even grown cattle,
are constantly disappearing as quietly and effectually as though
the earth had opened in the night and swallowed them. One evening a
native came in from a distance of twelve miles to purchase six cents'
worth of mangos, and being otherwise unencumbered in returning home
he took along a calf which he picked up as he passed the outer gate.
At another time when the cane mill was started in the morning, it was
discovered that a large wrench, weighing probably twenty pounds, was
missing. There being no other mill of similar construction in the
community, it was inconceivable that anyone could have had any use
for the wrench. The foreman called the men all together and told them
of the disappearance. He discharged the whole force of more than a
hundred men, and said there would be no more work until the wrench was
returned. Next morning it was found in its accustomed place at the
mill, and every man was there ready to go to work.

Shortly after buying the ranch I was spending the night there, and went
out to hunt deer by means of a jack,--a small lamp with a reflector,
carried on top of the head, and fastened around the hatband. Assuming
that the reader may not have had any experience in this lonesome
sport, I would explain that on a dark night the light from the jack
being cast into the eyes of an animal in the foreground produces a
reflection in the distance resembling a coal of fire. If the wind is
favorable, one can approach to within thirty to fifty yards of a deer,
which will stand intently gazing at the light. The light blinds the
eye of the animal so that the person beneath cannot be seen even at a
distance of twenty feet. The hunter can determine how near he is to
the game only by the distance that appears to separate the eyes. For
instance, at 125 to 150 yards the eyes of a deer will shine in the
darkness as one bright coal of fire, and as one approaches nearer they
slowly separate until at fifty to sixty paces they appear to be three
or four inches apart, depending upon the size of the animal. It is
then time to fire. It is always best to proceed against the wind, if
there is any, otherwise the deer will scent your presence. The eye of
a calf or burro will shine much the same as that of a deer, and one
must be cautious when hunting in a pasture. I took my shotgun with a
few shells loaded with buckshot, and passing through the canefield
came to a clearing about half a mile from the house. As I approached
the opening I sighted a pair of eyes slowly moving towards me along
the edge of a thicket next the clearing, apparently at a distance
of about seventy-five yards. I knew it was not a deer, because that
animal will always stand still as soon as it sights a lamp. It was too
large for a cat, and did not follow the customary actions of a dog;
but what it was I couldn't imagine. The two enormous eyes came nearer
and nearer, moving to first one side and then the other, the animal
appearing to be unaware of my presence. When it approached to within
perhaps fifty yards of where I stood, I thought it was time to shoot,
and so cocking both hammers of my gun I blazed away, intending to fire
only one barrel and keep the other for an emergency. In my excitement
I must have pulled both triggers, as both cartridges went off with a
terrific bang. The recoil sent me sprawling on my back in the brush,
the gun jumping completely out of my hands and landing several feet
distant. The light was extinguished by the fall, and I lay there in
utter blackness. When I fired, the animal lunged into the thicket with
a crash, and in the confusion of my own affairs immediately following,
I heard no more sounds. I discovered that I had thoughtlessly come
away without a match, and being unfamiliar with the territory, had no
idea in which direction the house stood. Groping around in the dark
I finally located the gun and struck back into the brush in what I
supposed to be the direction I came. Presently I ran into a dense
jungle of terrible nettles, which the natives call _mala mujer_ (bad
woman). They are covered with needlelike thorns and their sting is
extremely painful and annoying. I was also covered with wood-ticks,
which added appreciably to my misery. It was cloudy and the night was
as dark as death. Realizing that I was on the wrong route it seemed
necessary to spend the night there, but I could neither sit nor stand
with comfort amid the nettles. After proceeding five or six hundred
yards through these miserable prickly objects (which in height ranged
from two to thirty feet, thus pricking and stinging me from my face to
my knees) I suddenly plunged headlong over a steep embankment into the
water, when I became aware that I had reached the river; but whether I
was above or below the house (which stands back about a thousand yards
from the river) I couldn't tell. After groping my way along under the
river bank for nearly half a mile, during the space of which I again
fell in twice, I concluded that with my customary luck I was headed
the wrong way, and so retraced my steps and proceeded along down the
river for nearly a mile, when I came to a landing-place. Leaving the
river I went in the opposite direction a short distance, and soon
bumped into some sort of a habitation. After feeling my way more than
half-way around the hut and locating an aperture (the door) I hallooed
at the top of my voice four or five times, and receiving no response
I ventured in only to find the place vacant. Returning to the open
I manœuvred around until I found another hut, where I proceeded to
howl until the natives woke up. I couldn't imagine how I was to make
myself understood, as of course they could not understand a word of
English. The man struck a match and seeing me standing in the door
with a gun in my hand, and with my face all scratched and swollen to
distortion from my explorations in the nettle patch, both he and his
wife took fright and jumping through an opening on the opposite side
of the room disappeared in the darkness, leaving me in sole possession
of the place. After groping around the room in vain search of a match,
and falling over about everything in the place, I returned to the open
air. Meantime the clouds had begun to break away and I could see the
dim outline of a large building a short distance beyond, which proved
to be the sugar-mill. I was now able to get my bearings, and discovered
that the hut from which the two people had fled was one of a number of
a similar kind which belonged to the place and which were provided free
for the workmen and their families that they might be kept conveniently
at hand at all times. I was not long in finding the main road leading
to the house, and when I arrived there everybody was asleep. After
fumbling around all over the place in the dark I found a match and
discovered that it was twenty-five minutes of three. Thus ended my
first deer-hunt in Mexico. In the morning I noticed the _zopilotes_
(vultures) hovering over the field in the direction I had taken the
night before, and upon going to the spot I found an enormous full-grown
jaguar lying dead about ten feet from the edge of the clearing. Several
shot had penetrated his head and body, and luckily, one entering his
neck had passed under the shoulder-blade and through the heart. The
natives said it was the only jaguar that had been seen in that locality
for years, and it was the only one I saw during the whole of my travels
in Mexico.

That morning it was discovered that every hut in the settlement at the
mill had been vacated during the night, and there was not a piece of
furniture or a native anywhere in sight; the place looked as desolate
as a country-graveyard. Later in the day we found the whole crowd
encamped back in the woods, and were told that during the night an
Evil Spirit in the form of a white man with his face and clothes all
bespattered with blood, had visited the settlement, and wielding a huge
machete, also covered with blood, had threatened to kill every man,
woman and child in the place. A few years prior to that an American had
been foully murdered at the mill by a native, who used a machete in
the operation, and this, they said, was the second time in five years
that the murdered man had returned in spirit-form to wreak vengeance
on the natives. It was more than three months before they could all
be induced to return to the houses. I cannot imagine what sort of an
apparition it was that molested them the first time. The frightened
native and his wife had doubtless returned and alarmed the others with
a highly exaggerated story, and gathering up their few belongings they
had fled for their lives. I told the foreman the circumstances, but he
strongly advised me not to attempt to undeceive them, because they had
a deepseated superstition about the mill, and no amount of explanation
would convince them that the place was not haunted by the spirit of the
murdered man, especially as this was their second alarm.

The peon class in Mexico are exceedingly superstitious and there is
scarcely an act or circumstance but what portends some evil in the
mind of one or another. About the only thing about which they have no
superstitious misgivings is the act of carrying off something that does
not belong to them.

Late one afternoon, while on a trip out through the country, we met
an American in charge of two Mexican soldiers (in citizen's dress)
who were returning with him to Tuxpam. They said he was a desperate
character who had broken jail while awaiting trial for murder. He
was seated astride a bare-backed horse and his legs were securely
leashed to the body of the animal, while his feet were tied together
underneath. His arms were tied tightly behind his back, and altogether
his situation seemed about as secure and uncomfortable as it could
be made. He was not allowed to talk to us, but the officers talked
rather freely. They said he had recently killed an officer who pursued
him after breaking jail. The poor fellow looked harmless and passive,
and had a kind, though expressionless, face. His eyes and cheeks were
deeply sunken and he showed unmistakable evidence of long suffering.
They had captured him by a stratagem, having overtaken him on the
road and pretending to be _amigos_ (friends) they offered to trade
horses with him. His steed being much fatigued he eagerly grasped the
opportunity to procure a fresh one, and as soon as he dismounted he
was seized and overpowered. The vacant and hopeless expression of the
prisoner as he sat there bound hand and foot, and unable to converse
with his own countrymen was indeed pathetic, and judging by his looks
we were convinced that he was not a hardened criminal. We therefore
determined to look him up on our return to town and ascertain the
facts. Three days later upon returning to Tuxpam we learned that soon
after we passed the party the officers had camped for the night, and
tying their victim to a tree had taken turns at guard duty during the
night. At about three o'clock in the morning the prisoner had managed
to work himself free from the bonds and while the officer on watch was
starting a fire to warm the breakfast for an early morning start the
prisoner pounced upon him and seizing his revolver struck him a blow on
the head which laid him out. At this juncture the other officer woke
up just in time to receive a bullet in his breast which despatched him
to the other world. Taking one of the horses the fugitive fled, and up
to the time I left Mexico he had not sent his address to the police
authorities; nor did any of them appear very anxious to pursue him
further. The officer who was first attacked came to his senses a little
later, but he was perhaps more interested in looking to his own comfort
and safety than in attempting to follow the fugitive, with the prospect
of sharing the fate of his fellow-officer. We were informed that the
prisoner had been a poor, hard-working, and law-abiding resident who
had migrated to this country from Texas several years before, bringing
with him his wife and one child. He had brought about $1,000 American
money, which had been sunk in a small farm near Tuxpam where he had
cast his lot, hoping to make a fortune. One night his home was invaded
by a couple of drunken natives who were determined to murder the whole
family on account of some imaginary grievance. In defending his family
and himself he killed one of them, and wounded the other, and next day
was cast into prison, where he was kept for almost two years--until his
escape--without an opportunity to have his case heard. Meanwhile both
his wife and child died of smallpox without being permitted to see him,
and were buried without his knowledge. It was reported that after his
incarceration his wife and child had moved into a hovel in town, and
that when the coffin containing his child's body was borne past the
jail on the shoulders of a native, en route to its last resting-place,
by a most singular and unhappy coincidence he happened to be peering
out through a small hole in the stone wall, and saw the procession. He
is said to have remarked to another prisoner that some poor little one
had been freed from the sorrows of life.

How any white man can survive two years' imprisonment in a Mexican jail
is beyond human comprehension; in fact we were informed that it is not
intended that one should. I heard it remarked that "if a prisoner has
plenty of money it is worth while hearing his case, but if he is poor,
what profit is there in trying him?" The judges and lawyers are not
likely to go probing around the jails merely for the sake of satisfying
their craving for the proper dispensation of justice. We were told by
one of the oldest resident Americans that if in the defense of one's
own life it becomes necessary here to take the life of another, the
safest thing to do is to collect such arms, ammunition and money as
may be immediately at hand and make straight through the country for
the nearest boundary line, never submitting to detention until the
ammunition is exhausted and life is entirely extinct. The filthiness
and misery within the walls of a Mexican jail exceed the powers of
human tongue to describe, and tardy justice in seeking a man out in one
of these Plutonic holes is generally scheduled to arrive a day too late.

With the exception of wood-ticks, the crop that thrives best of all
in this part of Mexico, all the year round, is grass. There are two
notable varieties; one is known as the South American Paral grass, and
the other as Guinea grass. Both are exceedingly hardy and grow to great
height. The Paral grass does not make seed in Mexico, but is generated
from the green plant by taking small wisps of a dozen or more pieces,
doubling them two or three times, after which they are pressed into
holes made in the ground with a sharp stick, much after the manner of
planting corn, and in rows about the same distance apart. Three or
four inches of the wisp is allowed to protrude above the ground. It
is generally planted thus in the latter part of May,--though at this
season the ground is very dry,--because when the rains begin everybody
is so busy planting and caring for the corn-crop that everything else
is dropped. As soon as seasonable weather begins the grass sprouts
and sends out shoots along the ground in every direction, much like a
strawberry-vine. From each joint the roots extend into the ground, and
a shoot springs up. By the early fall the ground is completely covered,
and by the first of January it is ready to pasture lightly. The growth
is so thick and rapid that it smothers the weeds and even many of the
sprouts that spring up from the stubs and stumps. I saw a small patch
of this grass that had been planted early in April when the ground was
so dry that it was impossible to make openings more than two or three
inches deep with the sharp-pointed sticks, as the holes would fill up
with the dry loose earth. This patch was planted by a native who wished
to test the hardiness of the grass, and with little expectation that
it would survive the scorching sun of April, May and a part of June,
until rain came. It was in May that I examined this patch, and pulling
up several wisps I did not find a single spear that had sprouted or
appeared to have a particle of life or moisture in it. But when the
rainy season commenced every hill of it sprouted and grew luxuriantly.
During the rainy season in the fall it will readily take root when
chopped into short pieces and scattered broadcast on the ground.

The Guinea grass is almost as hardy as the Paral, but is planted only
from the seed. It grows in great clusters, often to a height of six
feet, and soon covers the ground. These two grasses seem to draw a
great deal of moisture from the air, and stand the dry season almost
as well as the brush and trees. The cattle fatten very quickly on them
and never require any grain. Beef-cattle are always in good demand
at high prices, and there is no other industry so profitable here as

The deadly tarantula is as common here as crickets are in the United
States, but to my astonishment the natives have no fear of them, and I
never heard of anyone being bitten by one of these, perhaps the most
venomous of all insects. They abound in the pastures and live in holes
which they dig, two to four inches in the ground. One can always tell
when the tarantula is at home, for the hole is then covered with a web,
while if he is out there is no web over the hole. I have dug them out
by hundreds, and one forenoon I dug out and killed seventy-two, often
finding two huge monsters together. They sometimes bite the cattle when
feeding, and the bite is usually fatal. Their deadly enemy is the wasp
(_Pompilus formosus_) by which they are attacked and stung to death if
they venture out into the open roadway or other bare ground.

The most deadly reptile is the four-nosed snake; it usually measures
from four to six feet in length and from 2-1/2 to four inches in
diameter at the largest part, with sixteen great fangs, eight above
and eight below. They have the ferocity of a bulldog and the venom
of the Egyptian asp. The natives fear them next to the evil spirit.
The most remarkable feat of human courage that I ever witnessed was a
battle between an Indian workman and one of these snakes. In company
with a number of other workmen the Indian was chopping brush on my
place around a clearing that was being burned, and the snake sprang at
him from a clump of bushes as he approached it. The Indian struck at
the snake with his machete, at the same time jumping aside. The snake,
narrowly missing his mark, landed four or five feet beyond. Immediately
forming in a coil he lunged back at the Indian, catching his bare leg
just below the knee, and fastening his fangs into the flesh like a
dog. The Indian made a quick pass with his machete and severed the
snake's body about four inches from the head, leaving the head still
clinging to his leg. He stuck the point of the machete down through
the snake's mouth, and twisting it around pried the jaws apart, when
the head dropped to the ground. Four of the workmen and myself stood
within fifty feet of the scene, all petrified with amazement. The
Indian realizing that his doom was sealed stood for a moment in silent
contemplation, then walked directly to where the fire was burning and
picking up a burning stick he applied the red-hot embers on the end to
the affected part, holding it tightly against his leg and turning it
over and over until the flesh was seared to the bone. After completing
the operation he fell in a dead faint. He was carried to the house and
revived. His grit and courage saved his life, and in less than three
weeks he was at work again. I offered a bounty of one dollar apiece
for every snake of this variety killed on my ranch, and the natives
would form hunting-parties and look for them on Sundays and rainy days.
They were brought in in such numbers that I began to think the whole
place was infested with them, when presently I discovered that they
were killing and bringing them from all the surrounding country. They
were so cunning that they would bring a snake and hide it somewhere on
the place, then coming to the house they would announce that they were
going snake-hunting, and in fifteen or twenty minutes would march in
triumphantly dragging the snake, usually by a string of green bark.

There is in Mexico a small tree called _palo de leche_ (milk tree)
which produces a milk so poisonous that the evaporation will
sometimes poison a person at a distance of several feet. The smallest
infinitesimal part coming in contact with the mucous membrane of the
eye will produce almost instant blindness, accompanied by the most
excruciating pain. The only antidote known to the natives is to grind
up peppers of the most powerful strength--as strong as those of which
tabasco sauce is made--and pour the liquid into the affected eye. I saw
this distressing operation performed twice while in Mexico. The natives
naturally dread to encounter these trees when clearing.

There is an abundance of scorpions in Mexico. They are to be found
under rocks and logs, and particularly throughout the house. One
morning I found four snugly housed in one of my shoes. After putting
my foot into the shoe the instinctive promptness with which I removed
it from my foot reminded me of the army-ant episode when the boatmen
so hastily removed their shirts. In putting on my shoes after that I
learned to "shake well before using."

Among the nuisances in Mexico the fleas take their place in the first
rank. They appear to thrive in every locality and under all conditions.
Like vicious bulldogs, they are especially fond of strangers, and
never lose an opportunity of showing their domestic hospitality. In
connection with the flea family there is a very small black variety,
the name of which in Spanish is pronounced nēwaw. They usually
attack the feet, especially of the natives--for they wear no shoes--and
burrow in under the skin around the toenails or at the bottom of the
foot, and remaining there they deposit a great number of eggs which
are surrounded by a thin tissue similar to that which covers a ball of
spider eggs. The presence of this troublesome insect is not noticeable
until the eggs begin to enlarge, when there is an irritating itching
sensation followed by pain and swelling. The skin has to be punctured
and the sack of eggs removed,--not a pleasant operation, especially
when there are forty or fifty at one time. These insects thrive at all
seasons, and, next to the omnipresent wood-tick, are one of the worst
torments extant. I have frequently seen natives whose feet were so
swollen and sore that they could scarcely walk. At recurrent seasons
there is a fly that deposits a diminutive egg underneath the skin of
human beings by means of a needlelike organ, and the larva of which
produces an extremely disagreeable sensation, sometimes followed by

This does not by any means exhaust the list of disagreeable insects
and reptiles, but enough are mentioned to give the reader some idea of
the bodily torments to which both the inhabitants and the visitor are
constantly subjected.

Having obtained a fair idea of the existing conditions we may now
return to our friend Mr. B., and then wend our journey homeward. After
the visit to the hacienda of the wealthy Spanish gentleman (who, by
the way, brought most of his wealth from Spain), he was perhaps the
least concerned of any man in Mexico as to whether vanilla, rubber,
coffee or anything else could be profitably grown there. Like Dickens
with his Dora, he could see nothing but "Carmencita" everywhere, and
no matter upon what line or topic the conversation turned it was sure
to end in the thought of some new charm in the black-eyed beauty. She
was not only a flower, but a whole garden of flowers, too beautiful and
too delicate to subsist long in that vulgar soil. She longed for the
life, excitement and companionship of the friends of her schooldays in
America, compared with which the humdrum monotony of a Mexican hacienda
seemed like exile. With ample means and social standing as an armor
the conquest was therefore a predestined conclusion. The conquering
knight returned home with me, but in less than seven weeks he was back
again, though not by the way of the loitering route down the _laguna_.
In the following November he returned again to America, bringing with
him the coveted treasure whom he installed in a beautiful home in
America's greatest metropolis. The union of these two kindred souls
was a happy event. Their home has since been blessed with the advent
of two lovely girls and one boy. It is therefore no longer true that
no American fortune-hunter has ever returned from the rural districts
of southeastern Mexico richer than when he went there; for here is an
instance where one of the most priceless of all gems was captured and
borne triumphantly away from a land which appears to abound in nothing
but pestilence and torment.

Verily may it be said that this part of Mexico whose people,
possibilities, peculiarities, pestilences and pests I have briefly
sketched in the foregoing pages, was made for Mexicans, and so far as I
am personally concerned, they are everlastingly welcome to it.


Obvious printer errors have been corrected. Otherwise, the author's
original spelling, punctuation and hyphenation have been left intact.

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